Mendenhall: Professional Athletes Make Too Much D*mn Money
Dating back to the sixth century B.C., we showered athletes with expensive gifts and high social status, sometimes commissioning statues in their honor. Since the birth of the first professional football team in 1896, we’ve only further elevated professional athletes and their entertaining abilities.
These incredibly skilled individuals may be the best of the best, but we’ve entered an era in which we over-glorify them and put them on extremely high pedestals. An athlete’s skill should be recognized and appreciated, but not at the ridiculous expense of millions of dollars.
Professional athletes don’t deserve to be idolized with highly-inflated salaries.
They Make How Much?
The most popular professional American sports leagues have different average salaries. With the exception of Major League Soccer, all leagues average above $2.69 million. MLS players make about $312,470 on average, only because they don’t have as much popularity in the U.S. These salaries also differentiate between team members. Standout players that set records and play championship games will usually receive much more than their lesser-known teammates.
For the 2022-23 season, Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry will be the highest paid NBA player, with a salary of $48 million. Aaron Rogers of the Green Bay Packers will make $50 million this year alone. New York Mets player Max Scherzer will average a $43.3 million paycheck, and the highest paid NHL player, Nathan MacKinnon, will bring home $12.6 million. Other professional athletes, like Premier League soccer players, are paid $3.9 million per year on average.
The media scrutinizes professional athletes that live a frivolous life and incur lifestyle inflation, an increase in spending as one’s income increases. Throughout his boxing career, Mike Tyson had a net worth around $400 million dollars. Tyson was notorious for spending substantial amounts of money on cars, houses, pigeons and tigers. Sharing with The Pivot in 2003, Tyson said, “The money didn’t run out right away, it took like 15 or 16 years for me to go broke. … Pure crazy stuff you can do with your money.”
Brand Endorsement Opportunities
Some of the highest paid athletes in the world have the most lucrative brand deals and endorsements. One of these athletes is Lionel Messi: he brings in $130 million per year from brand partnerships with Budweiser, Adidas and Pepsi, in addition to his yearly salary of $41 million.
Other athletes, such as Tom Brady, use their exorbitant amounts of money to create their own brands. Enter BRADY, his new athletic clothing line. An average American not making professional athlete-level money wouldn’t have the connections or resources to make a successful business right off the bat.
Popular brands that endorse high-profile athletes are willing to pay an absurd amount of money to boost their public image and stay relevant, meaning athletes can name their price for features in a company’s advertisement. This only adds fuel to the public’s promotion of professional athletes to “god-tier.”
Do They Deserve it?
If we’re going to idolize professional athletes, they better deserve it. I want to support athletes who impact their community in positive ways, like being a good role model for fans. One such athlete, Utah Jazz’s Jordan Clarkson, paid for the repairs and upgrades of a local Filipino food truck after it was vandalized. Clarkson also spent his first NBA off-season working with children in the Philippines.
Unfortunately, for every player that does good, there are bound to be some that don’t. Recently, there have been many professional sports players flouting rules and laws because they have the means to pay the fines that accompany them. Take Antonio Brown: he has a volatile history of lashing out against authority, violating the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy and has had multiple sexual assault allegations made against him. While Brown is now a free agent with slim chances of being re-signed, his past antics occurred while he was the highest-paid wide receiver.
MLB Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer was recently suspended for two full seasons after sexual assault allegations from three women. He was in direct violation of the MLB domestic violence/sexual assault policies. I’m grateful that the MLB took immediate action against Bauer, rather than giving him chance after chance like the NFL has given Brown. Prevalent cases of sexual assault and domestic violence should influence the public’s perception of how these athletes are, in fact, not above the law. When professional athletes can pay enormous fines for egregious violations as if it’s pocket change, you know they’re making too much.
We as the public will only continue to praise these individuals with each passing year, so it’s not a surprise that some players act out in negative ways. For how overcompensated professional sports players are, they need to be humbled, or at least held to higher standards if they want their insane salaries.
Murray: Pro Athletes Deserve Their Earnings
LeBron James. When his name shows up, most people think of the basketball player, but I also think of the role model. Ever since I was a kid, James has been the athlete I looked up to, playing for my favorite team, the Cleveland Cavaliers. Being able to witness most of his career, I saw his growth and his philanthropy firsthand.
James’ salary is a whopping $44,474,988 and at first glance, you may think that is an exorbitant amount of money for a man that entertains crowds, even if he is one of the greatest of all time. But, he puts that money to good use with the LeBron James Family Foundation and the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, a “Public School dedicated to those students who are already falling behind and in danger of falling through the cracks.” Actions like this go far beyond the salary and they impact people’s lives forever.
Essentially, pro athletes are paid their fair share, and in some cases are undervalued. For how much they earn their league and owners and how much they contribute to people’s lives, athletes deserve to be paid what they are worth.
In the U.S., sports are ingrained into our way of life. We consume sports daily whether it be on the TV, through our phones or in person. Especially post-pandemic, we crave sports more than ever before. Viewership is on the rise and so are the valuations of the leagues and teams — but with that comes a surge in contract numbers. This year alone, four quarterbacks broke the highest-paid QB threshold. It is easy to see how this headline news could skew our opinion of athletes’ pay in a negative way but in reality, these big stories are outliers and don’t represent the majority of professional athletes.
The starting salary for an MLS player is in the range of $63,547 – $81,375. The median salaries for the NFL and NBA are $860,000 and $3.8 million, respectively. The average salary of an MLB player is $4.41 million, while it is around $3 million in the NHL.
Sure, those numbers aren’t anything to scoff at, especially for the average salary, but they definitely aren’t the $44 million-a-year contracts we see in the news all the time. When you take into account the increasing salary cap across all leagues as well as the value these players provide to their teams, those numbers are what they deserve.
Internationally, the pay system is different within Europe’s top five soccer leagues. There is no salary cap, so owners can spend as much as they want as long as they keep within the Financial Fair Play rules set by FIFA. Depending on who owns what team, they can spend a lot of money. But even with all of the oil money floating around, the likes of a Kylian Mbappé contract, a Cristiano Ronaldo contract or a Lionel Messi contract are still vast outliers compared to the average player. For instance, the average salary in La Liga is two million pounds, which is only that high because of how much Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid pay their players. The same could be said about the Bundesliga and Serie A where the average salaries are 1,663,089 euros and 1,894,792 euros, respectively, because of the top few teams in each league.
Another international event is the Olympics. Athletes from all around the world who participate in all different sports work tirelessly for an event that happens once every four years and they barely get paid their fair share. For representing their country on the world’s biggest athletic stage, 60% of Team USA’s athletes made less than $25,000 a year. This is a prime example of how some athletes are severely undervalued and yet another reason why all athletes can’t be bunched in the same group.
Arguably the most humanitarian athlete in the world right now is Sadio Mané. With a salary of 385,000 euros per week or 20 million euros per year, he is one of the highest-paid soccer players in the world. Recently, at the prestigious Ballon d’Or awards, he won the first-ever Socrates award for transforming his home village of Bambali in Senegal. For the population of 2,000 people, Mané built a public hospital and maternity unit which cost 455,000 pounds, a free-to-attend secondary school that provides laptops to the students which cost 250,000 pounds, a gas station and a post office. He installed 4G connection for the rural areas of Senegal while also providing $70 a week to every family to support them.
Once we get past the staggering numbers, there are countless examples of players and organizations giving back in ways that only their salary allows. Even here in Utah, the Jazz have scholarships for students at the University of Utah, which could completely change the trajectory of a student’s academic and professional career in an incredibly positive way.
We can’t be dissuaded or jaded by the media’s coverage of high-profile athletes and their insane outlier salaries. The majority of professional athletes make an honest, well-deserved living, and we shouldn’t critique their earnings especially when many use a good portion of their salary for humanitarian endeavors.