Priorities misplaced

By Michael Howlett

October 16, 2013

I came across an article the other day that I found it very disheartening. You see, the article and its accompanying graph concerned the top paid public employee in each of these United States.

What was disheartening about the information was the vocation of the man at the top of the money pole in many of the states. Now, some of you are going to be alright with what I’m about to tell you, some are going to scratch your head in amazement and some, mainly women, are going to get very angry and begin to weep for the future of our great country.

The highest paid public employee in 40 states is … a college coach. Yes, that’s right, a coach. In 27 states, including Texas, Alabama and Virginia, a football coach tops the list, while in 11 states, including North Carolina, Kentucky and Indiana, a basketball coach holds the top spot. The head football coach and head basketball coach at the University of Minnesota get paid the same.

While I find this surprising and troubling, the one that really gets me is New Hampshire, where a hockey coach is the highest paid public employee. What in the name of Wayne Gretzky are these people thinking? Methinks they have been pucking it up a bit too much; either that or mixing mushrooms of a questionable quality in with their pine bark and maple syrup.

Part of the problem, I guess, is I just don’t have much interest in hockey. But before you say, “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” let me tell you I have, indeed, partaken in the sport of the frozen north. Yes, while stationed in Anchorage, some guys in my company decided to play some hockey. Since I’m game for most anything, I said yes when asked.

Now, my first mistake was not taking into consideration that the guys who wanted to play hockey were from states like Minnesota, Michigan and, yes, New Hampshire. They were born with hockey sticks in their hands, which made for tremendously painful deliveries for their mothers.

A friend of mine played minor league hockey so he supplied me and some non-hockey-familiar friends with hockey sticks. Once we rented some skates we were ready to give this hockey a try. The first problem was trying to skate, which proved to be much more difficult than I thought it would be. In fact, I found it almost impossible.

Somehow I and a few other skate-challenged fools made it out into the middle of the rink. Once the game started, it wasn’t so much I was playing hockey; rather it was I was just trying to stay alive. I think there was a game inside a game. Not only were the hockey knowledgeable playing hockey, I think they were trying to see which nubie they could knock out with a high flying puck.

As you might imagine, I didn’t gain much of an appreciation for hockey. In fact, I think if men were meant to zip across the ice, they would be born with skates instead of feet, which, of course, would make their mothers’ deliveries even more painful.

Okay, back to topic. The remaining 10 states that weren’t paying a coach an enormous salary were passing along the big bucks to college presidents, law school deans and med schools deans. I’m not so happy about that either, but somehow that seems to make a little more sense.

Now, if anyone thinks this is coming from a person not invested in sports, think again. Anyone who knows me knows I love sports, especially college sports, especially college basketball, especially the Tar Heels. Although I find much pleasure in sports, I also find pleasure in literature, art, music and knowledge. If I may be so bold, I consider myself a true renaissance man, without the tights of course. Well … okay … maybe tights if we’re talking renaissance faire, but any other time is right out.

I really don’t know who should be the highest paid public employee, but I can’t help believing it shouldn’t be a coach. Maybe no one needs to be the highest paid public employee; maybe all public employees should be paid the same, or, at least, very nearly the same. The professor who is searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s or the public school teacher who is able to inspire students might prove mimore beneficial to this country than any coach who wins a national championship.