It’s Super Bowl weekend, that magical time of year when America’s divisions reshape themselves. On Sunday, we won’t be divided between Republicans and Democrats, with views from the left, right, or center. Instead, we will have Patriots fans versus The Others. Call ‘em “haters.”
One of the reasons the Patriots are disliked is their cult-like culture: the Patriot Way. In short, there is a premium placed on working for the greater good of the team, sometimes to the detriment of the individual. The kicker? Players will jump at the opportunity to take less money to play for the organization, going so far as to fire their agents to get a deal done.
This upends sacred cows across the political spectrum. On the right, it is astounding individual players would affirmatively choose to not maximize their economic gain. From the left, the temptation of a shiny, diamond-encrusted Super Bowl ring is enough to drive players to take less and work more…all resulting in the Kraft family — one percenters! — making more money.
Of course, it isn’t quite that clean. After all, “taking less” in the NFL is a question of how many millions of dollars a player is willing to settle for; not exactly the same challenge faced by most Americans.
But there is something to the underlying concept: there are some things we value more than money. For professional athletes, it is the opportunity to be a champion, to be the best. For a young parent, it might be flexible working hours to spend more time with their children. And for someone trying to start a new line of work, it may be the chance to learn and pursue the job of your dreams.
Go no further than the Patriots’ coaching staff. Bill Belichick — the Grey Hooded One — earns $7.5 million a year as head coach. That’s a long way from the $25 a week he earned in his first job with the Baltimore Colts as a “glorified gofer.” Adjusting for inflation, that job would today pay the princely sum of $125 per week. A 60,000-fold increase in annual pay makes that first, meager job seem like a good investment.
Or look at Matt Patricia, the bearded defensive coordinator, who now earns some undisclosed, likely large sum from the payroll department in Foxboro. An aeronautical engineer by training — a legitimate rocket scientist — he gave up a $100,000-a-year technical job out of college to become a Division III line coach. The pay? Around $6,000. He took a 94 percent pay cut to pursue his passion. With a Saturday night hotel room in Houston, passion paid off.
The path trodden by Belichick and Patricia is not one limited to professional sports. Each of them was willing to start at the bottom, with bottom-dollar pay, in order to learn their craft and develop in their respective careers. As they improved, they were not stagnant and languishing — they advanced and thrived. And now they earn, for lack of a better term, stupid amounts of money.
But today in Maine, both coaches’ first football jobs would likely be governed by the new minimum wage laws. Either directly, since Belichick’s $125 a week would run afoul of the minimum wage, or indirectly; Patricia’s $6,000 would be close to the hourly minimum wage rate for four months, and are you really going to pay your defensive line coach the same as 16-year-olds running around with footballs?
Yet the market already lifted those positions — laws weren’t necessary. You would be hard pressed to find an NFL team offering scouting positions at $125 per week, while UMaine’s assistant coaches — granted, not Division III — earn at least $38,000.
So where does that leave us with the minimum wage? Well, Patricia and Belichick both soaked up football from an early age. In addition to their considerable intellects, their work ethics are a major reason for making the Super Bowl. And the best way to develop a work ethic is to imbue it from an early age; that requires the opportunity for teenagers and others to work. Maybe, as is being proposed by one of the leftmost legislators in Augusta, we can adopt a training wage to mitigate the damage to youth employment.
As the Patriots show, you aren’t stuck at your first job and your first wage forever. And while Coach Belichick’s 60,000 percent increase might be the exception, earning more as you develop new skills and undertake new experiences is the rule. Even if you have to take a pay cut to do it, like Matt Patricia.
But hey, this weekend isn’t about right versus left. It’s about the Patriots versus the world.