During nearly a half century of writing for The New Yorker, from 1933 until 1982, the late John Cheevers earned $126,547 for his short stories, and another father. This totals almost $173,000.
This past weekend, John McEnroe won almost that much, $160,000, in a single match, the United States Open. Martina Navratilova, the women's winner, snared the same amount, adding to the nearly $2 million she has already won in matches this year.
Now there is no belittling the athletic skill, the remarkable string of triumphs for the likes of McEnroe and Navratilova, the entertainment value of sports like tennis, and so forth.
One could point out that Mr. McEnroe's domination of the men's game, and Miss Navratilova's string of 55 straight wins, just shy of Chris Evert Lloyd's record 56, suggest purses may in part substitute for a lack of surprise in the final matches of such tournaments, where the same two or three competitors meet again and again. Unlike, say, a golf tournament, where any of a dozen or two dozen competitors could come in the winner.
But skip that. Just think of a lifetime of achievement in letters and a weekend's pay for a superathlete. We'd rather hear less about sports-entertainment purses. What do they say about the inner competition of conscience, of personal values in conflict with social demands, for athlete as well as artist, on which no price can be set?