Two Sides to Every Coin: Are Professional Athletes Overpaid?

The Doctor Chris Mueller@@BR_DoctorFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2012

Photo by Kirsty Pargeter/Shutterstock
Photo by Kirsty Pargeter/Shutterstock

Jimmy Connors plays two tennis matches and winds up with $850,000, and Muhammad Ali fights one bout and winds up with five million bucks. Me, I play one-hundred and ninety games, and I'm overpaid! - Johnny Bench

In my lifetime, I have seen strikes and lockouts from just about every major sport, and they all argue over the same basic thing: money. The NBA, NFL and MLB are the most notable when it comes to disputes over salary.

With players and coaches asking for more perks and pay, it makes you wonder if they are already making more money than they are worth. It also begs the question of how you measure a player's value in dollars and cents.

In this article, I will explore both sides of the argument.  Whether or not athletes are overpaid is not for me to decide; this is simply to see what all of you think.

Once you have come up with your opinion on the matter, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Each sport is different in how they pay their athletes, and the difference in salaries from one player to another can be in the tens of millions of dollars.

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In a time when many Americans are struggling to make mortgage payments, student loan payments and find good employment, it sometimes becomes frustrating to hear about someone who makes millions playing a game demand more money and then get it.

If you look at it subjectively, it is hard to deny something that I think a lot of people will think: Most athletes are overpaid.

Let me run down some statistics for you to back up the argument before going any further. I will use Chicago-based teams as an example, since I am from Illinois. These numbers do not include endorsement deals or any bonuses.

  • The highest paid Bears player made over 13 million dollars in 2011
  • The highest paid Cubs player will make 19 million dollars in 2012
  • The highest paid Bulls player will make 13.5 million dollars in 2012
  • The highest paid Blackhawks player will make 6.3 million dollars in 2012
  • The lowest paid Bears player made $330,000 in 2011
  • The lowest paid Cubs player will make $417,000 in 2012
  • The lowest paid Bulls player will make about $850,000 in 2012
  • The lowest paid Blackhawks player will make $512,000 in 2012
  • The average Bears player made about 2 million dollars in 2011
  • The average Cubs player will make over 6 million dollars in 2012
  • The average Bulls player will make just under 5 million dollars in 2012
  • The average Blackhawks player will make just over 2.7 million dollars in 2012

These numbers certainly make me realize a few things.  Different sports pay very differently, athletes are separated in salary by very large margins and many athletes are overpaid.

Now, allow me to give you some examples of how much some people in non-sports industries make each year. These numbers may vary depending on the specific area of expertise.

Last year he made more than most families will make in a lifetime
Last year he made more than most families will make in a lifetimeAndy Lyons/Getty Images

No matter how you look at it, the guy getting paid 19 million dollars to swing a bat at a ball is making more per game than the average American household makes in an entire decade.

Do you think it's fair? Think about how much you took home last month. Now, think about how much your bills cost you. Now, think about how much money you had left over to buy a ticket to a game or something else that you didn't really need, but wanted.

It doesn't really seem right that the thing my three-year-old nephew does for fun makes someone millions of dollars every year. Then again, life is not always fair.

Athletes were not always paid more than CEOs. In the early stages of the American Football system, most players had to have a normal day job on top of playing, because there was no money to be made in pro football.

The same thing goes for almost all early African-American athletes who were paid significantly less than their white counterparts, even if they performed far better.

My father has worked his ass off for the 40 years since he began working, suffering injuries to his shoulder and back on the job, and yet he will retire having made less in his lifetime than Payton Manning made just last year. Does that make sense?


Here is the other side of the argument: Aren't we, the fans, the ones who dictate how much money these guys make in the first place?

I have gladly shelled out up to $75 for a ticket to a game, and I have bought officially licensed team hoodies and travel mugs for more than I am willing to admit.

We are the ones who are willing to keep giving more of our hard-earned money to attend games in person, buy over-priced beer and food and wear the jerseys of our favorite athletes.

If we stopped going to games and buying officially-licensed merchandise, then these numbers would obviously have to go down to balance out the budget.

When we make the decision that it is worth it to pay a day's wages to attend a three-hour game and cheer till we loose our voices, then we are telling these athletes that they are worth every penny they make, and maybe in the minds of some people, they are worth it.

Many people get inspired by athletes and end up doing great things on their own, and inspiration is not something which can be priced and stocked at Wal-Mart next to the soda.

If you find any kind of inspiration from someone else, then there is no way to put a value on how that person has positively affected your life, especially if that inspiration drives you to do something fantastic.

There are also other reasons these guys and gals get paid the big bucks, and one thing in particular that affects many athletes, both during and after their pro career, is injuries.

Health insurance companies will either deny these men and women outright, or give them coverage which will not actually help the cost of knee or hip-replacement surgery, for example.

Rookies work hard to make sure they're deals increase
Rookies work hard to make sure they're deals increasePatrick McDermott/Getty Images

According to costhelper.com, the average knee-replacement surgery for someone without insurance is between $35,000 and $40,000.

This is not including physical therapy, follow-up exams and surgeries to replace any parts needed on the synthetic joint. This is just one scenario where a huge expense might pop up for an athlete.

With most athletes putting their bodies through the ringer each and every time they play, it is likely that at some point they will incur some kind of high-cost medical bill.

Another high-cost medical issue can be brain damage, which can affect anyone who suffers trauma to the head. According to braininjury.com, the average force needed to give someone brain damage is around 50 Gs, or, in easier to understand terms, being hit with a 13-pound bowling ball traveling at 20mph.

Football players can be subjected to hits up to 200 Gs when hit, but wearing a helmet can prevent the damage from happening, or at the very least lessen the impact it has on one's life.

Another reason for high pay is the short career of an athlete. The average American will retire between the ages of 65-75, but a professional athlete will last a lot less in their career than someone who sits at a desk all day.

Being put through the kind of physical stress a pro athlete goes through will almost certainly affect you later in life, especially those in full-contact sports.

Knee, back and head injuries can be the hardest to deal with later in one's life, due to the fact that they are parts of the body we use every day for many different activities.

Speaking from experience, I can tell you that dealing with knee problems can affect how you live your entire life.

After being born with a congenital leg problem (my femurs are technically backwards in my legs), the doctors told my parents I would never be able to walk without several expensive surgeries being performed to reverse the bones.

My parents could not afford the surgeries, but I ended up being just fine. I could run and do everything all my normal-legged friends could do. In fact, I was more flexible than most.

When I began studying martial arts at the age of six, it helped me to stop walking with pigeon toes. I went through studying for 13 years, but after about ten years of not only studying, but teaching martial arts, I began to notice some discomfort in my knees.

I went to a specialist who took some X-rays and performed tests, and the issue was that I had worn away all the cartilage in my knees, to the point where my knee caps were moving more than they should have.

Now, ten years later, I am still a healthy adult, but every day I wake up and feel some pain in my knees, which can make it hard to get going in the morning. Winter weather makes it even worse.

This is something I have to assume pro athletes deal with on a much larger scale, since they deal with much more physical contact than I was dealing with.

These kinds of physical problems can cost a retired athlete a lot of money to make their daily lives livable. This, combined with the fact that most insurance companies won't cover a pro athlete, makes it so their medical bills end up much higher than the average person.

So, now that you have seen both sides of the coin, please feel free to share your thoughts on the subject below.

A special thanks to my partner in crime, Mike LeMonier, who gave me some great information to contribute to the article.

Information on teams and player's Salaries gathered from the following sources.

Chicago Bears salary from Sportscity.com
Chicago Cubs salary from ESPN.com
Chicago Blackhawks salary from Sportscity.com

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