When Stephen Curry, an American professional basketball player, signed a new contract with the Golden State Warriors in 2017, populist criticism and outrage ensued on social media and radio talk shows. However, it is not the only controversial instance of criticism and anger over sports compensation, nor an isolated incident. Los Angeles Dodgers offered their outfielder Mookie Betts a 12-year contract worth $365 million. Meanwhile, Los Angeles Angels’ baseball centerfield Mike Trout is on a 12-year, $426 million contract. Even non-stars, rookies, and benchwarmers in significant sports leagues globally bag thousands of dollars annually and are protected by legal collective bargaining agreements. These incidences exemplify the longstanding debate about questionable compensation for professional athletes. The arguments excite fan irritation and heated criticism, given the widening income inequality. While it is seemingly unfair and unjustifiable, professional athletes are not overpaid since they are significant architects of the multi-billion sports business, susceptible to life-threatening injuries, and are subject to short careers and long retirements.
First, professional athletes across all major leagues globally are the principal architects of billions of revenues streams generated through ticket sales and sales of TV rights. Jesse Spector, Sportswriter and radio host, faults the multi-billion sports business (Bowen and Spector). According to Spector, team owners rake billions of dollars annually at the expense of athletes.
Fans shell out significant amounts of money in costly entry tickets and overpriced merchandise such as snacks, apparel, and clothing. Professional sports entail multibillion-dollar contracts with TV networks. For instance, present agreements between the Baseball league and Fox Sports, ESPN, and Turner amount to $12.4 billion in eight years, constituting $1.5 billion annually (Shea). A small fraction of the revenue is used to pay athletes’ salaries. According to Matthew O’Brien, the most recent collective bargaining agreements for the NFL and NBA payout approximately 50% of revenue each to athletes. Stain notes that Milwaukee Bucks paid an annual salary of $2,537,880 during 2006-2007; NBA teams generated roughly $200 and $300 million annually. Nonetheless, ballplayer salaries are subject to high tax rates and expenses such as servicing agents and unions. It implies that headline salaries that often spark outrage are not necessarily the take-home pay.
Besides, professional athletes have short-lived careers and long retirements. Shea notes that most players fail to turn pro, and only a few excel in sports commanding enormous free-agent contracts. However, the considerable arrangements are short-lived; ballplayers and athletes have a brief earning window compared to conventional careers. The earning window often ranges between an individual’s mid-20s and early 30s (Shea). Judy Martel, an RBC Wealth Contributor, notes that the average career length of most significant sports is less than six years.
Besides, professional athletes put in over hours of hard work for practice, workouts, study, and game time, which expose them to career-ending injuries. Risks escalate in actively violent sports such as boxing, in which players put their lives in line each time they are at work. Overall, unlike headline contracts that insinuate unfair and unjustifiable agreements for professional athletes, the net take-home pay and circumstances underlying sports businesses
suggest that they are significantly underpaid. Sports businesses rake billions in revenue, in which professional athletes are the significant architects. Additionally, professional athletes put their lives in line whenever they show up for work and are susceptible to career-ending injuries, which can worsen life-threatening, especially in select games such as boxing. Lastly, most professional athletes are subject to short careers and long retirements; the earning window is
relatively short compared to traditional jobs.
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- Martel, Judy. ” Pro Athletes: How to Navigate Short Careers, Long Retirements.” Forbes, 2015,
- O’Brien, Matthew. “Why Baseball Players Are Underpaid.” The Atlantic, 2022,
- Shea, Bill. “Are Professional Athletes Paid Too Much? The Answer May Surprise You”. The
- Athletic, 2022, https://theathletic.com/2014283/2020/08/24/are-professional-athletes-paid-too-much-the-answer-may-surprise-you/.
- Stein, Dan. “Why Pro Athletes Aren’t Paid Too Much.” Bleacher Report, 2008,