Priorities on sports ignore our city’s real pressing needs


New Mexicans have now learned that the new basketball coach at UNM will get up to $1 million a year. By Carroll Cagle Albuquerque Resident

New Mexicans have now learned that the new basketball coach at UNM will get up to $1 million a year.

The average income for New Mexicans is about $50,000. That’s also about what average teachers might get per year. One basketball coach gets 20 times more.

Something is drastically wrong with this picture, when those in charge of sports get so many taxpayer dollars, while there are about 1,000 teacher vacancies and (while) small-business owners and workers struggle to survive economically.

The distortion in spending priorities makes one wonder: Whatever happened to education itself? You know, scholarly pursuits – learning? Learning facts, and context, and developing wisdom and judgment?

These activities do go on, but they are eclipsed by the unholy fixation on who can carry or kick or throw a ball faster and longer, and more successfully than the other team.

You will not see thousands of excited fans cheering on a prodigy in mathematics or pre-med or English literature.

It is true that athletic activities in high school and college offer benefits: Physical skills, teamwork, the ability to handle disappointment. Personally, I have long enjoyed walking in nature settings, and there are a couple of NFL teams that I follow avidly.

But there is a distortion of priorities in our society when the benefits of learning get lost in the cheers of the crowds in the stadiums or arenas. Academic achievements are seldom covered as news on the local TV channels and newspapers, but sports certainly are.

Nor is the $1 million-a-year coach the only example of unwise priorities. Other coaches for other sports and at NMSU get a pretty penny, too.

And, of course, there is the further disturbing signal being sent by the current mayor’s cheerleading for spending $50 million on a new stadium for a private soccer club. Realistically, the price is likely to be $100 million.

The stadium is smilingly promoted as a priority while our residents watch with sadness and anger a relentlessly rising tide of violent crime, aggressive panhandling on most major street medians and disturbing tent cities of the homeless sprawled along sidewalks and other enclaves.

Spending tens of millions on a stadium and paying one coach $1 million a year should remind us of the phrase “bread and circuses.” That description was coined long ago in ancient Rome by the poet Juvenal, who decried superficial appeasement and distraction of the people by the then-power elite, instead of tackling real problems.

Albuquerque exists in a beautiful setting of the Sandia Mountains and the nurturing Rio Grande, under the canopy of a turquoise sky.

Many of us who live here feel deeply saddened by what has been happening to our city.

Fixing what is seriously wrong here will require a reordering of priorities and resources, from the momentarily enjoyable, but nonessential, to solving real problems and restoring a genuine quality of life.

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