Who among us has not done a double-take after hearing about the latest record-breaking athlete salary? With football quarterbacks, baseball sluggers, and high-scoring basketball players pulling in millions of dollars each season, it can be hard for the average couch potato to understand how a person can become a millionaire by simply playing a game. Without a doubt, sports stars get paid a lot of money. But is it too much?
Not All Athletes are Rich
For each million-dollar annual salary that you hear about, there are many more players whose yearly income is much closer to yours. Playing baseball, for example, is not by definition a lucrative career. Many players spend years trying to work their way up through the minor leagues, honing their skills and trying to stand out from the crowd. Some of these players seem to be on the brink of moving up into the major league, only to remain in the minors for most of their career. Once you understand the long history of sweat, tears, and heartbreak behind a major leaguer’s success, his large paycheck makes a little more sense.
Athletes Work Hard and Risk their Health
The next time you play a pick-up game of basketball with friends, make note of how your body feels afterwards. Then consider how many games (far more intense than your pick-up game!) a professional player participates in over the course of a season. Add in countless practice games and daily workouts, and you will get some idea of just how physically demanding it is to compete at the professional level. Besides the day-to-day effort, there is always the possibility of suffering an injury that could end an athlete’s career. In professional football, the injury rate is close to 100%. Doesn’t it make sense to reward someone for taking that risk in order to entertain us?
Supply and Demand
Sports stars’ paychecks, like those in most professions, are subject to the laws of economics. A salary is determined by factors like the skills needed for the job; the number of people capable of filling the position; and the public’s demand for the service in question. The demand for athletic performance in the United States is undeniable, with people paying millions of dollars every year for game tickets, merchandise, cable channel subscriptions, and other sports-related products. The relatively small number of quarterbacks playing in the NFL are the best at what they do, and their skills command a high price in the job market. The next time you marvel at a seven-figure contract, remember that you are the one creating the demand!
Right or Wrong?
Some raise moral issues concerning high pay for sports stars. For example, young people who are attracted by the prospect of an easy life as a wealthy basketball player may devote themselves to the sport instead of a more realistic career. By the time they realize just how hard it is to make it to the top, it may be too late for them to pursue another skilled path.
Right or wrong, the salaries for the top sports stars in the U.S. are not likely to come down without a dramatic shift in the way we think about—and, most importantly, pay for—the sports industry.
Sarah writes on her blog about sports and game reviews.