Are Professionals Athletes Really Overpaid? The Answer May Surprise You

Steven ResnickSenior Writer IMarch 28, 2009

Lately, there have been comments made that professional athletes are overpaid. Well, guess what? Professional athletes are not overpaid. To some this may come as a shock, but just because an athlete like Lebron James, Manny Ramirez, Kobe Bryant, CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, etc...sign huge contracts for over $20 million per season doesn't necessarily mean that professional athletes are overpaid.

How can that be then, when the top athletes are making over $20 million a year?

Well, according to Salary.com data from March of this year, the average salary of a professional athlete ranges from $18,100 to $40,800 per year.

Now, in the National Basketball Association, the minimum salary, according to Insidehoops.com, actuallly ranges from a players tenure in the league from a rookie to a player who's been in the league 10-plus years. The minimum is from $442,000 to $1.306 million.

In Major League Baseball the minimum salary is $400,000, but the average salary is about $2.3 million, according to an ESPN article titled MLB players, Owners Announce five year Labor deal.

The National Football League minimum salary for a player is like the NBA; it's based on how many years in the league.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find any current information on the average, but in 2007 it was from $325,000 for a rookie to $800,000 for 10 plus-years.

National Hockey League minimum salary is at $413,000, according to Yahoo's Puck Daddy feature that was titled NHL to snatch player salaries. It's an article from March of this year as well.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

Womens National Basketball Association minimum salary, according to WomensBasketballonline.com, for 2009 for rookies to players who played two years is as follows: $34,500, and for a player with three-plus years, then it's $50,000.

Nascar does not have a minimum salary, but the average driver makes $49,000 a year, according to simplyhired.com, and this is as of March of this year as well.

Professional Golf Association and the Ladies Professional Golf Association are different than that of baseball, basketball, football, or hockey in that for a golfer, especially in the major tournaments, they have to be able to make what is called the cut. If they don't, they do get any money and more than likely paid an entrance fee for playing on the course.

If a professional golfer makes the cut, then depending on where they placed in the event, they could get a share of the cut. It could be a couple of thousands of dollars, and for the winners, they can reach over a million dollars.

According to ESPN.com, PGA money leaders—the player who has made the least amount of money—is Olin Browne, who has played in six tournaments and has made $6,732. And the player who's made the most, who has also played in six events, is Geoff Ogilvy, who has made about $2.8 million. Between Browne and Ogilvy, there are 224 more golfers. 

For the LPGA money leaders, the women who has made the least amount of money so far is Kelli Kuehne at $3,914, and the money leader is Lorena Ochoa, who so far this year has made $379,000.

Major League Soccer, according to a New York Times Blog, pays their athletes an average of $34,000, and the minimum amount made by young players is roughly $20,100.

Professional gymnasts make on average about $35,000 a year.

Professional ice skaters from what I found there's no data on it.

Both men and women tennis players are similar to the way that golfers make their money as well.

This doesn't seem like these professional athletes aren't making around the $18,000-$40,800 quoted earlier in this article. Well, now it is time to define what a professional athlete is.

Taken from this link a professional athlete is defined as playing sports for a living. Most professional athletes have risen from the ranks of fine amateur athletes. Amateur athletes play for the joy of competing and winning and occasionally for awards such as Olympic medals.

Some play for schools, colleges, or clubs or in tournaments. Unlike amateurs, however, professional athletes earn money for playing sports. They play for profit-making teams—professional football, baseball, basketball, and hockey teams to name several. In individual sports including golf, tennis, and boxing, athletes play in tournaments in which prize money is awarded to the winner.

It is also not very easy to get into the top professional sports for getting into the NBA there's a .03 percent chance of a college basketball player making it. Meaning that these amateur athletes actually are employed in a different field.

There are the top rung professional sports, like the MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, MLS, PGA, and LPGA.

What about the minor league baseball players, for example?

In the first year, the maximum earnings for a minor leaguer is $1,100 a month. That's only $13,200 a year.

What's also lost is that there are 240 minor league baseball clubs that can make anywhere from $3 to $25 million a year.

Meaning that once a player progresses through the years in the minors, and if they never make it to the major leagues, they''ll make more than the $13,200.

While thinking these athletes are being paid extraordinary amounts, let's look at how much money the top 10 CEO's in America made in 2008:

1. Lawrence Ellison of Oracle made $192.2 million dollars

2. Frederic M. Poses of Trane made $127.1 million dollars

3. Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy made $116.89 million dollars

4. Angelo R. Mozilo of Countrywide Financial made $102.84 million dollars

5. Howard Schults of Starbucks made $98.6 million dollars

6. Nabeel Gareeb of MEMC Electronic Mats made $79.56 million dollars

7. Daniel Amos of Aflac made $75.16 million dollars

8. Lloyd Blankfein of Goldeman Sachs group made $73.72 million dollars

9. Richard D. Fairbank Capital One Financial made $73.17 million dollars

10. Bob Simpson of XTO Energy made $72.27 million dollars.

What about other occupations besides CEO's that make more than the salary range of professional athletes. 

Neurosurgeons: make between $267,000-$682,000

Surgeons: make between $199,000-$432,000

Orthopedic Surgeons: $219,000-$573,000

Cardiac Surgeons: $217,000-$693,000

Head Nurses: $117,000-$230,000

Urologists:  $198,000-$434,000

Pharmacists: $94,000-$116,000

Psychiatrists: $136,000-$221,000

Phsysician Family Practice: $124,000-$211,000

Sales Engineers: $86,000-126,000

Vice President of Marketing: $116,000-$286,000

Vice President of Sales: $124,000-$283,000

According to a 2007 article on CNN professional athletes do not even make it in the top 50 paying jobs in the United States.

Most of these jobs also include yearly bonuses or compensation as well.

Another thing people don't really understand is how much work athletes do to stay in shape.

Yes, many believe offseason is the time of year when athletes spend all of their not-so-hard-earned millions and go out and party.  However, that is clearly not the case.

With the athletes of today, especially, that doesn't happen as much, because if a player comes in to camp out of shape, they are liable to lose their job, and a team will not wait for them to get back into shape. Athletes now have to continues to work year round.

Imagine how much effort, time, and sacrifice these athletes make. Whether it's missing out spending time with their families, missing significant events in their children's lives, births, etc......

Lastly, each time these athletes step out onto a court, a field, a stadium, etc., there's a chance of serious injury. Some of these injuries can take over a year and a half to heal, some heal rather quickly, and others cut their careers, and profession, short.

For NFL players, it's a violent game, and injuries may happen, like the examples of these three players: Kevin Everett, Bryant Young, and Napolean McCallum.

Also, it has been determined that NFL players' lives are cut short by two or three years for each season they play. So, the average life expectancy of a NFL retiree is from the ages of 53-59.

The average male lives to be 75 years old, meaning that NFL players lose anywhere from 16-22 years of life.  

Not many people will remember the story of Kevin Everett. He was on a kickoff return while playing for the Buffalo Bills, and when he went to make a tackle, he ducked his head while tackling Domenic Hixon.  Instead of making a simple play, like many fans have been accustomed to, he instead sustained what was considered a "catastrophic" and life-threatening injury.

A clip of Everett's Tackle that ended his career. With his determination, he was able to walk again.

Another injury is that of Bryant Young.

Young broke his leg after being hit with the crown of Ken Norton's helmet as Norton went to make a tackle. If Young hadn't been so strong, or if it was any other player, there would have been a strong possibility the the leg would have been broken off—it was that violent, and it was one of the worst football injuries in NFL history.

Napolean McCallum's injury could arguably be one of the worst football as well.

The video shows it best, and some of people watching it will have to turn away. From witnessing that game on TV myself, it stated that if Norton had moved and tried to get out from under him, McCallum's leg would have had to been amputated.

People will think it was only a broken leg.

It wasn't only a broken leg.

Young was in so much pain that the ambulance had to pull over to get him pain medicine. According to a CBS article on Young's injury, doctors weren't supposed to even know his prognosis until eight to 10 months later.

Guess what? Young returned nine months later and played at a high level of play. In terms of his ability, he was one of the best defensive linemen in 49ers history.

In baseball, there are two incidences that were just devastating injuries.

The first injury was the collision of Mike Cameron and Carlos Beltran in San Diego, when both players were going for a shallow flyball.

Here's the link to the scary collision in order to see the clip. There's a link for MLB.com with the actual video.

The worst injury in recent memory for a player was that of Jason Kendall. On a bunt attempt in 1999, as he was running to first base, stumbled and hit the bag very wrong, so badly that he fractured and dislocated his right ankle.

It was so bad that Kendall immediately went into shock, and a piece of his fibula was sticking a couple inches out from his skin. Even his teammates who ran into help had to turn away.

Basketball knee injuries are a common occurrence. There's not really the stomach-hurling kind of injuries that you may find in the NFL, or the rare occasions in baseball. Although, there are some notables ones that have happened recently.

TJ Ford's neck injury against the Atlanta Hawks was a scary situation when considering that Ford has had some neck issues in the past. The injury is at the end of the clip.

Shaun Livingston's may have been one of the most graphic injuries in NBA history. The angle of his leg after the injury is gruesome. Livingston dislocates entire knee.

The question now is how many people go to a job where they run the risk of dislocating and fracturing an ankle? Torn ACLs? Fractured necks and vertebrae? Broken legs?

Yes, there are professions that are more dangerous than others and have safety precautions in place. So, do professional athletes, and on the Everett injury, he did make a perfect form tackle the way NFL players are taught, and he still go hurt.

In fact, probably the most dangerous thing for most people complaining about athletes being paid too much is driving to work and being involved in a car accident.

As to the question of whether or not professional athletes overpaid, the answer is no.

NFL players die at a young age just to enterain their fans. Other sports, such as baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer all sacrifice their bodies for entertaining fans.

People don't realize what happens to athletes after they retire. Their bodies start to break down. Bill Walton has had countless surgeries, and there are plenty of players in the same boat as Walton.

slash iconYour sports. Delivered.

Enjoy our content? Join our newsletter to get the latest in sports news delivered straight to your inbox!