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Opinion

Should Athletes be Paid As Much As They Are?

Updated 
January 5, 2021
Written by 
Gianna


Trophy and money on black background
Photo: QuinceCreative via Pixabay

This year has been difficult for a lot of people. The coronavirus has ravaged the world on a scale unseen in a hundred years. Struggles are different for people in different parts of the socio-economic ladder, however. Top athletes, for example, also took a heavy cut in their paychecks. But one can argue that the salary of the world’s top paid athlete may still be able to feed the population of a small nation, even with the cut. Which begs the question – should athletes even be paid as much as they are?


For the first time since World War II, sports events all over the world are either postponed or cancelled. According to Forbes, the combined earnings of the 100 highest-paid athletes in the world is at least 9% less compared to 2019. It’s the first decline since 2016. But what exactly does that mean? 

 

Here are the top 10 highest-paid athletes in the world for 2020:

 

1.     Roger Federer (tennis) - $106.3M

2.     Cristiano Ronaldo (football) - $105M

3.     Lionel Messi (football) - $104M

4.     Neymar (football) - $95.5M

5.     LeBron James (basketball) - $88.2M

6.     Stephen Curry (basketball) - $74.4M

7.     Kevin Durant (basketball) - $63.9M

8.     Tiger Woods (golf) - $62.3M

9.     Kirk Cousins (American Football) - $60.5M

10.   Carson Wentz (American Football) - $59.1


Photo of three sportsmen
Photo: InsideSport

For the record, Messi agreed to a 70% wage cut in March (along with his Barcelona team mates). That haircut literally translated to $20M less for the Argentinian. Note that he’s still #3 in the list.

What can $20M get you? Well, you can get a private jet. A Gulfstream G280 will just set you back roughly $17M. There are several islands off the coast of Australia that go for $5M each. There’s a woman spending the rest of her life in a cruise ship, at a cost of around $450 a day. Theoretically, with $20M and that rate, you can spend more than 120 years on a cruise ship. You can buy 88 American houses, or with the average American family spending $7,203 a year on food, you can buy 2776 families a years’ worth of food.

 

In 2017, Stephen Curry, Golden State’s erm, golden boy, made around $45M for playing basketball. Half of US households make less than $56,000 per year. Curry took home more than 800x that amount. For one season of play!

 

But even looking beyond the highest paid of sports will show staggering numbers. The average salary in the US National Football League (NFL) was $2.7M in the 2018 season. In contrast, the median household income is only $68,400. US registered nurses, some of the highest paid nurses in the world, make $77,460 per year according to the latest data. Still a far cry from NFL numbers.

 

So the debate rages: should someone who just kicks or throws a ball for a living be paid hundreds of times more than someone who makes a living off saving lives?

 

No Way, Jose!

 

Boy reporting with text

 

Many people argue that athletes are paid way too much for what they do. These are the reasons why they should be paid less.

 

1.     Athletes have little positive impact on society in general.


Think of a job that has a high positive impact in society. You’d probably come up with firefighters or teachers. Firefighters typically earn an average wage of around $48,000. Teachers? Let’s just say that LeBron only needs to make 2 baskets to earn what a teacher does in a year.

 

No offense to King James, but one can argue that a teacher may have more of a lasting, positive impact than he ever could. Sure, he’s entertaining to watch, but is the entertainment factor enough to warrant exorbitant wages when police officers and military members, people that can actually die defending their country, get significantly less?

 

 

2.     Athletes work hard for the money, not the sport.


Sports should be about the game, not the money. Because of the very high salary rates, one can argue that athletes play for the money and not for the love of the game. It’s not unheard of for a player to switch teams for the extra few million dollars. 

 

Let’s look at the NBA for example. Salary caps have been rising in the last few years. Because of this, more and more players are opting to test free agency. It doesn’t really matter if you’re productive in your current team (We’re  looking at you, Kawhi Leonard). The fact is the salary cap in your rookie year will be so far behind the salary cap four years later. And if you’re playing your best basketball in years, the logical decision is to exercise your player option and go to the team that will pay you more.

 

Will the community of loyal sporting fans hate you for it? Most likely. It’s not unheard of for fans to literally burn effigies of athletes that ditch. Do players care? I’m assuming a few million dollars should be enough to salve the burn.

 

3.     High athlete payouts take out from the fans’ wallets.

 

Unfortunately, professional sports is also a business that’s worth billions of dollars. Players, in a sense, get paid to be the face of the business. However, high salaries need to come somewhere. By inflating their bank accounts, management teams are passing the burden to sports fans by way of larger ticket prices, among others. 

 

Season tickets to baseball cost over $2000. Football ticket prices are typically in the $80 range per game. Buying bottled water at stadiums will set you back $4, a 16oz beer will run over $7. So you better believe you paid your part in getting your favorite player his new Ferrari, all while you’re driving your beat up car.

 

4.     The skewed salary rates affect those in the support function and even other athletes.


As already stated, top performing athletes make hundreds of times more than the average worker. But even within ball clubs the salary divide can be astronomical. 


Look at the NBA. While Curry earned upwards of $40M this season, the lowest paid player only made around $155,000. This isn’t exclusive to basketball either. Joey Bosa of the LA Chargers made $43M this season. He actually  received the first $100M contract in the Charger’s franchise history. Meanwhile, Mr. Irrelevant (the infamous moniker given to the last player chosen in the NFL draft) is getting a base salary of just over $600,000. And he’s not even the lowest paid in the league. That honor belongs to Seattle Seahawks tight end Tyrone Swoopes. He earned a measly $387,000.

 

Now let’s look at the people who are not playing. NBA cheerleaders? ESPN reported they make between $75-$150 per game. Team physicians earn a median rate of under $190,000 annually. The average coach salary is $61,000.

 

What does this say? One, different sports have different salary rates. Two, players' wages are separated by huge margins. Three, support functions are grossly underpaid compared to the athletes. 

 

How is this fair?

 

 

5.     Athletes get paid even when they don’t do their jobs.

 

In the 2007 NFL draft, the Oakland Raiders chose Jamarcus Russel. He was the No.1 overall pick. Russel was awarded a 6-year, $68M contract. Of that amount, $31M is guaranteed. That means however his career turns out, he will get the guaranteed amount. He could underperform, he could amass fumbles, he could even get injured and never play again. It won’t matter. That $31M is his. For the record, Russel is now considered as one of the biggest busts in NFL history. 


Athletes get paid even when they play using performance enhancing drugs. Sure, some of them get stripped off titles, but has anyone been stripped off the cash?

 

With any regular job, using drugs gets you the boot. If you underperform and not hit your targets, you’d get written up at best and fired at worst. You’re not assured of any payout. 

 

The whole athlete payment system seems to have been designed to let these professional players swim in money regardless how they perform, all at the expense of the sporting fan. In a time when people the world over are struggling to pay bills and find steady employment, it can be very frustrating to see someone making millions just to smack a ball across the net. 

 

So yes, they are overpaid and should be brought down a peg or two (or more, who are we kidding?)

 

Or should they? 


They Deserve Every Penny

Man screaming on phone


On the opposite side of the debate table, we have people saying athletes deserve whatever they get paid and more. Why?

 

1.     Athletes help bring in money and create jobs.

 

Sports is a business. Athletes influence the number of people that pay for tickets, food and merchandise. Sponsors pay to get their names on stadiums and arenas. Yes, athletes get paid exorbitant amounts. But their star power alone can boost sales and help create more jobs. 

  

2.     Athletes spent years perfecting their skills.

 

Playing for a pro team is a dream for many young people. And they practice day in and day out to achieve the dream. Former neighbors of NBA superstar Dwyane Wade still recall how they used to file complaints because Wade and his father had basketball going “all the time.” As a result, he became one of the best, most well-rounded players in the NBA.

 

People like Wade have skills, often honed over years, that many others do not. They put in the time and effort. In fact, athletes are known to have insane training regimens. Why shouldn’t they get paid for it?

 

 

3.     Athletes work and get paid for skills like any other person.

 

Professional sports is work, plain and simple. Athletes get hired to do a job, in this case it’s to shoot hoops or hit baseballs or score touchdowns. They get “hired” based on their skill set. Even while on break, they’re expected to keep training, working out and practicing with the rest of the team. Therefore, they deserve to be paid befitting their skills.

 

4.     Fans support who they want to support. Why blame athletes?

 

Pro athletes make a lot of money specifically because there are fans willing to spend on them. Media networks pay the leagues boatloads of money for the right to air the games on television or other media. Because of the high potential for viewership, ads shown during games are sold for big bucks as well. Think the yearly Super Bowl extravaganza where a single, minute-long ad shown at halftime could set a company back by a million dollars. 

 

There’s also the money coming in from merchandising – from shirts to hats to foam fingers. Anything with a team logo has the potential to bring in the moolah. 

 

The higher the sales, the more money for your favorite athlete that’s the face of the team. Why blame him for it when it’s YOU who decided he’s worth the money when you fork out money for whatever he’s shilling?

 

5.     Athletes have short careers and are prone to injury.

 

There’s one thing affecting pro athletes more than a regular worker and that’s injuries. Every time they go out into the field or court, they risk getting hurt because sports can be very physical.

 

The thing is, when it comes to professional sports, health insurance coverage is not black and white. For individual sports like golf, players usually need to pay for insurance themselves. For team sports like hockey, the NHL has an insurance plan for their players based on a percentage of the players’ salaries. In some cases, like in the NBA, insurance is only required for the top 5 players of the team. 

 

Because of the way health insurance is set up, many athletes usually end up covering the bulk of medical expenses themselves. The average cost of knee-replacement surgery is around $40,000. That’s just the surgery itself. The cost of physical therapy, follow-up exams and anything else associated with the busted knee is not factored in yet. And we’re not even talking about more serious injuries like head traumas. Those could also cost a pretty penny.

 

So yeah, athletes can have very high medical bills. Considering that a pro athlete in the big four leagues – basketball, football, baseball and hockey – only average 3-5 years tenure, athletes do need to make big bucks. 

 

Many people get inspired by athletes. These people may eventually end up doing great things on their own. Salaries are traditionally based on the value of one’s work. But how do you put monetary value on someone’s effect on your life? Inspiration is priceless. In this respect, an athlete’s wage is not only well-deserved, one can even say they deserve more. 

 

What do you think? Are athletes getting paid more than they should or should they actually be getting more? Let us know what you think in the comments.


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