On the Bench: Overpaid Athletes

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If I asked you to play one baseball game and then handed you $200,000, you would make almost as much as Alex Rodriguez does every game. Athletes’ exorbitant wages are shocking but certainly not unusual. Some may envy athletes’ salaries, but that’s no surprise when the median household income in the United States is about $50,000. Meanwhile, Lebron James makes $19 million in one year and is still considered — you guessed it — underpaid.

The reality is that there are individuals with more important jobs — that is, those whose jobs affect society in a positive manner — who make significantly less. It’s not shocking that public servants like teachers and police officers make less than professional athletes. In fact, it’s the consensus that they are underpaid, but these individuals are shaping the future of the country. Some of them may even help future athletes along their way to stardom, but are only making a fraction of an athlete’s salary. Even people who are believed to be in “well-paying” careers like medicine and law make less than athletes do. Athletes simply provide entertainment to the masses and should not be paid more than individuals who have a greater impact on society.

However, that’s not to say that athletes don’t deserve significant compensation for their talents. These individuals have been scouted by agents since high school — or even earlier — and are considered the best at what they do. To maintain this status, they tirelessly train and practice year after year to improve their performance. Even though they work very hard, athletes do not need to be paid tens of millions of dollars and, despite what these athletes might say, paying them less would not minimize their hard work. After all, the salary of one professional athlete would be enough to help an entire city in a third world country overcome poverty. Moreover, if doctors study for years to make a fraction of an athlete’s salary and still live comfortably, then there’s no reason an athlete can’t survive on a lower salary.

Their high wages would be easier to accept if athletes made a better impact on society, like capitalizing on their fame to be role models. Although some may do this, all too often, we hear about the scandals: using steroids to artificially enhance their performance, cheating on their significant others or abusing their families. The truth is that these high wages can corrupt people by making them greedier, which is why so many athletes are quick to change teams for a higher paycheck. Greed is often coupled with other negative behaviors, such as drug use, that drive the athlete to his or her doom. Many individuals will get involved in sports not because they are passionate about the game, but rather because they are passionate about money. In an article written for ESPN The Magazine, an anonymous NFL player claimed that the majority of NFL players cared more about their paychecks than winning games. Higher wages make it virtually impossible to have good role models in sports, because often, the athletes’ priorities aren’t what they should be.

In most careers, workers do all they can to avoid being injured because, in extreme cases, this could lead to unemployment. However, athletes worry less about this because even if they are injured on the job — technically, on the field — and are unable to play, they are guaranteed a certain salary. It seems unfair that average Americans — usually the fans of these larger-than-life athletes — are struggling to make ends meet, pay student loans and make mortgage payments, while athletes are raking in the cash for sitting on the bench.

Those who defend athlete salaries claim televised sports games are equivalent to movies and, therefore, athletes are more than just players on a team, but rather “actors.” Actors are also overpaid, but that’s another story for another article. To put it into perspective, consider that Johnny Depp was paid $350 million for the four “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. Most people — including me — are not accustomed to having so many zeros in a paycheck. The fact that actors are paid excessive salaries does not make it permissible to overpay athletes.

Many will tell you that they think athletes are overpaid and in the same breath purchase their season tickets and team gear. The truth is that athletes are overpaid because of fans. Teams make their money through ticket sales, viewership and merchandise sales and then pass along these earnings to their players. Therefore, if people agree that athletes are overpaid, then they should stop creating such a high demand for sports.

Athletes’ salaries are really not to be envied, and they shouldn’t be making such ridiculous amounts of money. By voting with our dollars and viewing time, we can help reallocate the funds that would otherwise go to athletes’ salaries to better uses.

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