Sep 25, 2023

I'm observing Yom Kippur today.

But we've got quick hits and a reader question.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 5 minutes.

We have an abbreviated newsletter with some quick hits and a reader question today — because I am observing Yom Kippur.

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Heads up.

Dear readers,

Today is Yom Kippur, the holiest holiday on the Jewish calendar, and I'll be spending most of the day in synagogue praying, fasting, and observing the day of atonement. If you’re interested in learning more about this day, you can go here. The House and Senate are also both out today for the holiday. As such, I’ve asked my team to help me publish a "skinny" newsletter — some quick hits (so you don't miss any news), a reader question, and a "Have nice a day" story. We'll be back in your inbox tomorrow with a full newsletter covering the shocking indictment of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Thank you all for understanding. And for those of you observing Yom Kippur today, I wish you an easy fast and a (belated) happy new year.

All the best,

Isaac & the Tangle team

Quick hits.

  1. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is digging in, refusing calls to resign and reportedly planning to run again in 2024 despite being indicted on bribery and corruption charges. (The refusal)
  2. House Republicans are set to debate four of the 12 appropriations bills this week: Defense, Agriculture, State, and Homeland Security. They'll need to pass a stopgap funding bill or all 12 appropriations bills, with Senate approval, by Saturday night to avoid a government shutdown. (The bills)
  3. U.S. officials said intelligence from the "Five Eyes" (U.S., United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and Canada) also linked India to the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh leader who was killed on Canadian soil. (The intelligence)
  4. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) says it has reached a tentative agreement with the major Hollywood studios to end its 146-day strike. (The agreement)
  5. President Joe Biden is expected to travel to Michigan tomorrow to picket with the United Auto Workers union, which is believed to be the first time a sitting president has visited a picket line during a strike. (The visit)


Don't forget: On Friday, we published an edition on the prevalence of FBI entrapment, and how it relates to the plot to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D). You can read it here. Also, last week, we put up a new YouTube video on the Ashton Kutcher-Danny Masterson controversy. You can watch that below:

Your questions, answered.

Q: Why is it that corporate CEOs (e.g. Mary Barra at GM) get vilified for earning $30 million per year to manage a multibillion dollar global enterprise with 160,000+ employees, yet nobody seems to complain about an athlete or singer making $40 million (sans endorsements) to entertain?

— Eric from Denver, Colorado

Tangle: This is a great question, and one I love talking about. It’s not really right in the line of politics, but it does intersect with class consciousness in a way that’s politics-adjacent — and it brings me back to my roots a little bit as a sports journalist.

Let me address A-list performers and actors first. In a way, these celebrities are strange hybrids between actual people and functioning small businesses — ones that they’re both CEOs of and, weirdly, are the products that they sell. There are a lot of people who can bring more clarity to that than I could, though, so I’ll jump straight to my take on professional athletes.

They’re paid fairly for what they do — maybe even underpaid.

If an A-list celebrity is both their own product and CEO, then professional athletes who don’t reach that level are more like the assembly line workers who make the product that we all consume. Let’s consider just football: For every one NCAA college football player, there are twelve high schoolers who don’t go on to play in college. And for every one of the 254 players who make it to the NFL each year, there are 62 who don’t — 73,500 college athletes.

Then, after making it to the pinnacle of the sport, the median NFL player will earn $860,000 a year. And no doubt about it, that’s a lot of money; but the median player will also only be in the NFL for 3.3 years. That means they’ll have to manage that amount as they find another job to support themselves and their families, hopefully one that offers health insurance since the NFL doesn’t guarantee lifetime pensions or health insurance for the athletes who make the sport possible. Athletes who can make careers last over 10 years in the league are sometimes left with no marketable skills, ailing bodies, and a fixed (though large) amount to manage for their lifetimes.

Of course, there are still superstar outliers who sign contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars. But in those cases, players’ unions actually want those athletes to take those deals because doing so raises the bar for mid-level contracts and gives the union more leverage to negotiate for a larger share of league revenue to be given to player salaries.

And there’s a very good argument that a star athlete generates revenue directly proportional to their obscene pay — i.e. by driving ticket sales, improving a team’s winning record (which gets everyone else in the franchise paid), and putting a team on the map (the way LeBron James did for Cleveland). And all that revenue they drive creates entire other sectors of jobs: Sports media, the people who work at the stadiums, the coaches and training staff, sports betting, and all the athletes who participate at other levels (high school, college, semi-pro) to make the pros, and so on.

That all seems like a pretty fair balance of union power, profit sharing, and ruthless free-market capitalism to me. After all, pro sports and entertainment are pretty much the hottest commodities in America. Rather than compare CEOs to athletes, it makes more sense to compare them to franchise owners or general managers of sports teams. But there are a lot of people who are plenty critical of owners and owners’ compensation in the same way they are critical of CEOs.

All said: I think there is room to see the pay structure of a sports league like the NFL and think the players are compensated fairly for their labor, while seeing the way worker pay and CEO pay grow farther and farther apart in other sectors and think it is unfair. I don’t think being critical of CEO pay and accepting superstar athlete pay are at all contradictory. 

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

The extras.

Have a nice day.

Stella Puzzo was born with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, and was five when she had double hip surgery that left her with casts on both legs and a bar between them — making it impossible for her to wear traditional pants. Surgeons told Stella’s mom, Nikki Puzzo, that her daughter would have to wear dresses or a long T-shirt for three months while she recovered. Instead, Puzzo took apart a pair of brightly colored pajama bottoms at the seams and sewed in velcro to make a pair of adaptive pants. After learning that there weren’t any companies making clothing like that, Puzzo teamed up with her friend, Joanne DiCamillo, to create their own clothing brand of adaptive clothing — befree — for people like Stella. "I want to instill in her that she is beautiful, powerful, strong, no matter what," Puzzo said. "And she can always do whatever she puts her mind to, and I believe that, you know, whether she is able-bodied or not." CBS News has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.