Money In Sports: What's Right, What's Wrong, and Who Should Foot the Bill

Taylor RummelSenior Analyst IAugust 6, 2009

Often times, I find myself reminiscing about a particular Spring Break.


My family and I were in the Caribbean (as part of a cruise voyage) and had reached the third of four ports encountered during our time on the ship.


The "port" was the beautiful island of Roaton, a moderately-sized stretch of land some 30 miles due east of Honduras, which claims ownership of the land.


But as we disembarked from the ship—and allowed our enthusiastic toes to be graced with the warm and inviting sandy beaches—a chilling, yet sadly not shocking, reality set in:


The island reeked of the same third world culture that far too many lands in the Caribbean do.


To say that the island’s populates were "poverty-stricken" would be akin to saying that the current state of economy in America is "sorta bad"it would be a magnificent and vast understatement.


However, as poor as the inhabitants were, you just never got the vibes of dismay, discouragement, or discontent from any of the population as a whole. Sure, the people didn’t have much materialistically, but what they did have was more than any product or device could offer. 


They had hope, they had life, and they had each otherall things that no money in the world could buy.


In America, we are entitled to those above treasures, and many more. We are free to fill our desires under any legal means, to practice any religion if we deem it necessary, and to give voice to what we think about everyday matters. Only the unappreciative find reason to fuss about what fortune we’ve been blessed and born into.


But include me in the category of those who don't appreciate how money is distributed in our country, especially to certain people. 


I’m not talking about political issues such as welfare or taxes, but rather, the ridiculous annual salary-differential between two relatively major populations in our country.


Those two populations are "average Americans" and American athletes.


To help put things into perspective for the sake of this article, the median annual salary for an average American is $44,389*. Compare that to $1,470,000** for a professional athlete in one of the four major sports associations.


So, in comparison, the average American makes three percent of what the average athlete makes.


But while there are an estimated 304 million Americans living among us, there are only 4,420 professional athletes participating in one of the four king sports. So while all of that money is "out there," it is going to an astronomically low percentage of individuals.0001 of a percent to be exact. 


That's quite a discrepancy, if you ask me.


The question is then asked: Why should a grown-up playing a child’s game be rewarded with a lot more money than a fellow human who uses a great deal more brains or brawns than them? 


It doesn’t add up in the eyes of the public because those people have only experienced one side of the story—albeit the ordinary, non-athlete side.


They seemingly understand the odds of making it big-time, and yet they can’t fathom the benefits of achieving that fairy-tale lifestyle. They are brought up naturally and live normally. They make a decent salary. 


Every anomaly that comes into contact with humans regarding a familiar aspect of life (say money) entails some sort of outwards feelingusually jealously or pity for the opposite side of things.


Confused by the truth? An example has been already given in the story:


Normal Americans earn $44,389 a year. Athletes earn $1,470,000 a year. Normal Americans loathe, and are—presumably—jealous of the fact that someone can make a salary so much higher than their own, when they feel that they are working just as hard, (if not harder) at a job that they may or may not have held for any viable length of time.


But is it right for such emotions to be elicited from someone who, again, can really only tell one-half the story?


True, sports may lay claim to many cherished memories from our childhood, but that doesn’t mean that sports are merely for children. 


The uppermost levels of athletics are just as much a profession as banking, teaching and nursing are. They all require extensive knowledge of their subject and superlative execution from the individual when the time and situation calls for it. Additionally, they all require a business-like mind and a drive to succeed. 


Fail to possess too many of those attributes, and you’ll be seeing yourself demoted or fired faster than baseball speedster Andrew McCutchen can round second.


The truth is that pro sports are remarkably similar to other professions on so many levelsit’s just that the similarities aren’t presented to the public on a silver platter.  They remain concealed and obscured behind other, usually fluffy storylines that take precedent over matters that truly bear any significance at all.


In fact, I don’t blame the public for the resentment that they convey towards the world of sports and athletes specifically. I mean, it isn’t their fault for being misinformed and mislead by the usually disheartening picture that the media portrays of sports and their occupants—is it?


They (the media members) want you to familiarize yourself with all the garish, rich athletes in the worldall 4,420 of them. They want you to fall head-over-heels for particular players and become fanatical over the events of those respective individuals—or gods, as the media would like you to have it. 


You can hardly blame them, thoughit’s how they generate revenue. They make big money by exaggerating events and portraying stories in ways that will evoke a reaction out of the public, be it positive or negative, thereby making the fans want to come back for more essentially being the goal.


And they’ve accomplished their mission tooevidenced by how they’ve remained in business. As stated above, many people have "beef" with the ludicrous contracts that athletes are receiving nowadaysnumbers that the media are glorifying.


Alex Rodriguez received his $225 million mega-deal from the Yankees in November of 2007. Manny Ramirez was given $45 million dollars to stick with the Dodgers for two years. Basketball superstars Lebron James and Kobe Bryant are due to make an amount of money never witnessed before in sports when they become free agents this upcoming summer.


But it’s not just the veteran players who are raking in the enormous cash piles. Rookies, now more than ever, are being presented enormous contracts, heavy-laden with up-front guarantees.


Quarterback Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions was handed a record six-year, $72 million deal this past April, which included an absurd $42 million in guarantees. 


In baseball, pitcher Stephen Strasburg of the Nationalswho is represented by the notorious money-bagger Scott Borasis vying for $50 million bucks. 


The comical part of it all is that although they haven’t played one second in their new leagues, they are being paid like superstarsjust like the A-Rods and ManRams of the sports world who have actually earned their income.


They are in possession of colossal ability and supreme talent, but are you really willing to bet that they will become better players than the best presently in their respective sport?


I know that I’m not, and doubly do I believe that they shouldn’t be paid as such.


It would be a mistake, however, to blame current sport’s figuresowners, athletes, or agentsfor the overwhelming dollar figures handed out in today’s game.


To be fully informed, one must take a look at how contracts in sports have progressed throughout the years.


Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when baseball truly broke-out, $100,000 contracts were all the rage. Players like Ted Williams, and Joe DiMaggio were handed these once thought of lucrative contracts to compliment their impressive stat-lines.


Likewise, in football about a decade ago, super-stud Barry Sanders had re-negotiated his contract to the tune of $34.5 million over six years***. 


Remember how Stafford got $42 million in guarantees? Who do you think has earned their money more?


The point is that in all sports, big contracts have remained consistent as the times have rolled onwards.


So can you fault athletics for progression? For evolution?


Is it their fault that the economy has inflated?


Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not so naïve as to be unmindful of the fact that inflation in sports have grown at a far larger—and way faster—rate than that of the rest of the economy.


But, in their defense, they are just progressing alongside their checks—as all of society is—and the "record" contracts remain a tell-tale sign of that.


I mean, it wouldn’t make sense for players to receive what their counterparts did 50 years ago, so why the abhorrence for all of the money they garner now?

I believe that it is because of the media. They are the artists painting the pictureeither rosy or wiltedabout how they want sports to be perceived in the public. More often than not, they choose to tell the "wilted" picture, since that is what sells preeminently.


It leaves us fed up, since we are hearing the information in a most negative light.


However, we are the ones who have molded these appalling standards. We are the ones who fuel the journalism fire, by craving and obsessing ourselves with fame and fortune and puffed-up personalities. 


If not for our fascination with sports, then athletes wouldn’t be getting paid what they are. Yet, as we continue to complain about the money that they are receiving, we also stand impotent in the sense that we control what’s going on.


For some reason, I can’t find sympathy in that.



Taylor Rummel is a writer on Bleacher Report.


*Numbers attained from Wikipedia

**Number attained from ESPN the Magazine

***Number attained from Wikipedia


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