The argument in explaining to people who actually work for a living why an athlete (or CEO or movie star or TV weatherman) is paid a Dom-Perignon-and-beluga salary for, basically, enjoying himself goes like this: What the market will bear is fair.
Some famous athletes are not only testing the market just now, they're also testing the argument--and our patience. Tiger wants more out of golf: more money, more power. Venus and Serena want more out of tennis. Manny wants more than $17 million a year to play baseball. A-Rod wants more than Manny, and he wants personal lackeys too--presumably to tell him he's worth more than Manny.
You've got to read the details to believe this stuff. The New York Mets say the reason they've pulled out of the auction for free-agent shortstop Alex ("A-Rod") Rodriguez is the extras demanded by agent Scott Boras, who counters that these things were hardly "demands" and that, anyway, he didn't make some of them. Whatever--the add-ons to a 12-year, $300 million contract reportedly include an escalator clause that would automatically bump A-Rod's salary over anyone else's; a luxury box at the stadium for the star's entourage; private jet service; a tent at spring training from which to sell A-Rod souvenirs; a private marketing staff and an office at the park. Oh, yes, and a special request of the Mets: a guarantee that A-Rod would enjoy a greater billboard presence in Gotham than his crosstown rival, shortstop Derek Jeter of the Yankees.
That's A-Rod's Christmas list. In the meantime, Tiger Woods says that since the PGA Tour makes pots of money off his image, sharing might be nice. Richard Williams, father of charismatic champs Serena and Venus, says the same of the women's tennis tour: "We're making money for other people. It's time we shared that."
The agents for these folks routinely say it's not about money, it's about respect. Oh, please! For their ability to compete well and win, there are few more well-respected athletes in the world than Tiger, A-Rod, Venus and Serena. If the agents mean respect as people, then this can be more easily gained by signing autographs or doing charitable work. Trust us: the Cleveland Indians didn't mean to dis Manny Ramirez by offering him $17 million a year.
Agents just don't get it.
Or maybe they do. They think image is all, and who is to say they're not right in giving their all to maximize the potential of their clients' image? "Stylistically, I think there's a mistake being made here," says Leigh Steinberg, who was the real-life model for the fictional Jerry Maguire and who represents no athlete yet mentioned. "There's an insensitivity on the part of Woods and the Williams sisters and Rodriguez in the way they're floating these large amounts of money, a 'Let them eat cake' aspect to a family [with an] income of $30,000. This is, in essence, rubbing it in the face." Echoes David Falk, who represents Michael Jordan: "The public has no taste for listening to people complain publicly about their worth, and frankly neither do I. I applaud [Tiger] for his stance. I just think the stance should be taken privately." Some golf pros are also happy that Tiger is taking on the PGA, which they perceive to be haughty in its treatment of the talent.