IN THE SHADOW OF AUTZEN


I left The Science Factory the other day, a local children’s museum, where 2 days a week in summer I volunteer, giving two shows at the planetarium.  There isn’t much I have to do: start the projector, play two shows for a total of 10-30 people, and shut down the projector.  One show is about summer stars and constellations, the other changes every week.  This week, it was “Two small pieces of glass,” about the first telescope.

As I walked home, I realized that The Science Factory is almost literally in the shadow of Autzen Stadium, where the University of Oregon (UO) plays football.  The Science Factory does some neat things for children.  It has a large indoor playroom, where kids can make things, play with light, optics, a mini-recycler, learn about gravity, optical illusions, ham radio and orbits.  There are summer camps for young and teens, learning about technology and outdoor nature activities, too. It costs $4 to get in, a little more for a planetarium show, a little less if one is a member.  I’ve shown people sunspots outside, plan to build an analemmatic sundial, where one stands on the date and the shadow reads the time.  I like to think I help free up the planetarium director to do other business.  A few months ago, I spoke to 30 about the upcoming 2017 total solar eclipse visible in Oregon.  The staff is small, but many community volunteers help, all of whom believe that introducing children to science is a good idea.  It helps their brains.

Contrast that to introducing children to football, which may in extremely rare instances lead to a lucrative career, and most definitely harms their brains.  It harms them enough that the game, in my opinion as a neurologist, must change. “Stingers” are a nice way to minimize what I think are significant nerve trauma and concussion is the first step on the pathway to dementia.  ACL injuries are a way to say a knee is buggered up, when one is not even 21.

Oregon’s head football coach makes $3.5 million; ten assistant coaches make between $250,000 and $400,000.  They also have 4 graduate assistant coaches, two interns, and “Football Supoort (sic) Staff; Academic Coordinator for Football.”  I thought it ironic that the academic coordinator had a spelling error on the Web page.

I compared those numbers to UO senior administrators: the President makes $440,000, slightly more than a top assistant football coach.  There are 10 other senior staff, although one is Director of, you guessed it, Intercollegiate Athletics. In other words, if we pay what the market commands, since “the market” defines pay in this country, the head football coach is worth eight times that of the President.  Given the recent turnover in the latter, perhaps that is not wrong.

That’s what the market commands.  To paraphrase Dickens’ Mr. Bumble: “If the market supposes that, then the market is an ass.”

For a pittance of the salary for one of the assistant coaches, The Science Factory could obtain a really high quality projector for the planetarium, enlarge its space, and have a top notch technology center, something that might change a lot of young people’s lives.  Some might track near-Earth asteroids or help deal with space junk, increase our albedo or reflectivity to decrease warming, or understand our place in the universe better.  Oh, but high quality facilities don’t lead to children’s becoming better scientists.  Right.  So why do we have high quality facilities for athletics?

Back to football, tickets start at $44 for the cupcake games, triple that for the important ones.  Every game is a major event, and living close to the stadium, my Internet slows on game days.  On game days in Eugene and Corvallis, one needs a super reason to use I-5 in northern Oregon.

Football matters.  Walk into Track Town Pizza, there are pictures of Pre and other track stars from past Pre-Classics; over the Coors beer sign, a clock counts down down from season’s end to opening day kickoff.  Really.  Last countdown clock I saw was for 20 January 2009. I have read dozens of obituaries how somebody was “a big Duck fan.”  I cheer for the home team, and I enjoy sports a great deal, but I’ve written my obituary, and it doesn’t mention what teams I rooted for.

Football matters in America. While only a game, so is roulette, and big money, which is toxic, is involved in both. If one disagrees, I offer big money politics here and abroad as an example. The concept of student-athletes is reasonable in many sports but not college football.  The players should be compensated for what they are do, especially given the damage they incur upon their bodies.  It’s time to end the charade that they are students, at least the majority of them. I consider the staff salaries outrageous, literally on the backs, knees, and brains of 20 year-olds. But the market commands it.

I understand that “glory sports” subsidize athletics, but all very high income earners need a tax, at least 80% on salary over $2 million and 40% over a million.  A coach making $3 million now would be reduced to a paltry $1.8 million under my program. The extra money can go to interest-free loans to students.  That would be adding value to society. I mean value.  Like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates value.  Or FEMA, the Red Cross, National Weather Service, Public Health Service, NIH, CDC, FAA, NTSB. National Interagency Fire Center, FAA, you catch my drift.  Well, sports actually do provide value. They are a great escape from reality. I’d rather watch a dull baseball game on TV than turn on the news and hear about what humanity has done lately to the world or each other.  Sad it should cost so much.

How much? The University had a 7 cases of meningococcal meningitis, a significant cluster, and in the four months after they began vaccination, fewer than half the students were vaccinated.  I pointed out in a letter published in the paper that the school paid $27 million for a consulting group and branding, to bring a center of excellence, yet couldn’t develop a simple vaccination protocol that would have ensured all students at risk quickly got their first of three shots.  That would have been excellence. And branding.

The Science Factory has one big advantage being in the shadow of Autzen.  It has room for tailgaters on its property, and the organization gets a significant portion of their income from it.  The money won’t buy a new planetarium projector, but trickle down economics never really worked either.  Wish Mythbusters had attacked that trickle down economics along with “voter fraud.”

I’ll donate time and money to The Science Factory.  Both are well used, better than those donors, $900,000 of their donations was to buy out the last president’s contract; he had a major campus rape scandal on his watch.

Overshadowed by being national runner up in football.

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