02 May 2023
Are Athletes Overpaid?
In 2022, Forbes revealed a list of the top ten highest-paid athletes in all major sports in the world. They noted that according to their estimates, just the top ten athletes alone have been paid a whopping $992 billion over the last 12 months. That’s just shy of $1 billion in a single year being paid to just ten individuals!
Critics argue that professional athletes are overpaid since their work does not strengthen or improve our world compared to other professionals like teachers, lawyers, police officers, or medical doctors. They lament that athletes earn big bucks from short careers, getting millions of dollars over a few months while people in other professions mostly work long hours over the year.
So, the big question remains, Are athletes overpaid? Short answer, no. Long answer, no. And here's why no matter how you splice it, pro athletes do not seem to earn more than their skills are worth.
Athletes are Symbols of Hope
The idea that athletes are overpaid is wrong and predicated on ignorance rather than facts. The most common "no-brainer" argument is that they are not essential to the world, just an addition. These people forget that these icons can serve as a beacon for hope, motivating people to exercise and adopt a more active lifestyle. I believe there are numerous health benefits to this. So no, pro athletes are not overpaid. Keep reading to get more insight on how much sports are ingrained in our cultures.
In 1967, the federal government of Nigeria and the state of the Republic of Biafra became engaged in a brutal civil war. Bringing together more than 300 ethnic groups in a country of over 60 million people was no easy task. That is, not to anyone ordinary. Lucky for them, Pele arrived with his team, Santos, and halted the Nigerian war for 48 hours. Soldiers from both sides lined up to protect fans as they celebrated the match before resuming the war when Pele left. This is not an isolated case.
October 2005 found Ivory Coast facing off against Sudan in the final 2006 World Cup qualifiers. Didier Drogba, a Chelsea legend, appealed to the warring factions in Ivory Coast to end the war after they qualified for the match. The country's government and rebel forces agreed to start peace talks immediately. This led to a ceasefire immediately after the football star made his plea from the national team's dressing room.
The beautiful game has temporarily brought people of varying backgrounds and ethnicity together, giving them a taste of companionship and peace in an otherwise dark and tumultuous period of history. Games have a way of building confidence and persuading soldiers to put their arms down. They play to remind us that even in the darkest of times, beauty persists.
With that out of the way, let's dive into all the practices and economics involved in sports to let you determine whether professional athletes are overpaid.
Are Most Professional Athletes Overpaid?
The first thing we need to get out of the way is the notion that professional athletes are overpaid.
Lately, many people have turned their attention to the sports industry. The main question is, "Just how much money does an average athlete make?" Well, guess what, not all athletes earn millions of dollars. Professional athletes are not overpaid.
This may come as a shock to some. But just because Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, or Lebron James are paid millions of dollars doesn't mean they earn way too much money. How is this so, you ask? It all comes down to the sport and economics.
Strap in, we're about to drop some math bombs on you!
Athletes Do not Earn "Top Dollar"
It seems confusing to say that professional athletes' average annual salary is normal yet top athletes earn millions of dollars a year. We need to remember that, just as with anything in life, there are the cream of the crop.
Most professional athletes get paid between $18,000 to $41,000. This, however, is not a global standard. The sport in which one plays has an essential part in determining the amount of money a player will be taking home. Let' look at the US sports industry to determine how much a player takes in each major league.
- National Basketball Association (NBA)
- Major League Baseball (MLB)
- National Football League (NFL)
- National Hockey League (NHL)
- Professional Golf Association (PGA)
- Major League Soccer (MLS)
- National Basketball Association (NBA)
The NBA takes into account the time a professional athlete has stayed in the league, from a rookie to a player that's been in the league for more than ten years. A rookie earns about $925,258 while a seasoned pro-NBA player bags about $7.5 million annually.
- Major League Baseball (MLB)
At the top professional sports level, athletes in MLB have a minimum salary of $700,000. The average annual salary is much higher, of course, at about 4.38 million dollars, according to Statista.
- National Football League (NFL)
Professional athletes in the NFL have a minimum salary similar to that of the NBA. A player earns more money as they progress in the league. NBC reports that currently, rookies earn about $660,000 while a player with more than ten years under the belt takes home roughly $860,000.
- National Hockey League
The NHL minimum salary stands at $750,000 while the average take home salary of an NHL player is $3.5 million based on Bet MGM in a feature titled NHL Salaries: How Much Do Players Make? It's an article from November 2022.
- Professional Golf Association
The PGA follows a different system from other sports: basketball, baseball, hockey, or football. A golfer, especially in major tournaments, has to make what is known as "the cut." If they don't, they don't get paid anything. To add insult to injury, they more than likely paid an entrance fee to play the course.
Yikes! Golf is harsh!
If they do make the cut, then, based on where the event takes place, they will play and could potentially get a share of the cut. PGA tournaments are very lucrative. A player in the top 125 could earn anywhere between $500,000 and $30 million a year.
Don't go buying clubs yet, PGA Tour reports that David Muttitt, the player that made the least amount of money last year made $3,000. And the athlete that made the most, playing in six events, is Tiger Woods, taking home about $121 million. Between the two athletes are 142 more golfers.
- Major League Soccer (MLS)
A typical MLS player takes home $56,864 while the minimum salary of a young player below 25 years is roughly $36,500.
Professional gymnasts make between $30,000 and $62,000 for an entire year on average.
Tennis players make all their money in a similar way to golfers.
It doesn't seem like most of these professional athletes are overpaid now, does it? No, it does not. Athletes get paid much in the same way other people earn money. There are athletes like Stephen Curry and Mike Trout, of course. I mean, not every athlete is taking home a $20 million signing bonus! Athletes earn what they deserve. Looking at the math, it makes sense.
Are Sports Players Underpaid?
Well, now that the boring math is over, let's consider another angle. Could professional athletes' salaries actually be lower than the average around the world? Maybe. Before you start gaping at this assumption, take a minute to think about it.
For this, we'll need to define what a professional athlete is.
Law Insider defines a professional athlete as "an athlete who performs services in a professional athletic event for wages or other remuneration."
Nothing in this definition involves getting paid millions of dollars.
The average career length for NFL players is roughly 4 years. An NBA player typically stays for 5 years while MLB players stick around for about 6 years. Many professional athletes have relatively short careers. Our role models like Michael Jordan may not qualify among these statistics but they are the exception, not the ordinary.
It's not easy getting into the major leagues. Athletes spend a tremendous amount of time and effort for the chance to play in national and international sports leagues and associations. For instance, a college basketball player only has a 0.03 percent chance of making it to the NBA. Meaning these amateur athletes actually work in other fields to earn a good living.
They earn way less money than Mike Trout's 35 million dollars annual salary!
Let's Compare Apples to Apples not Apples to Oranges
You might be wondering, "Since you're such an astute speaker about pro athletes not being paid too much money and how they deserve the amount of money they get, why are top player salaries so outrageously high?" The answer is simple. A player's annual earnings are a cumulative figure of all they bring in. Here's how.
Take, for instance, Atlanta hawks' Trae Young, bagging about $43,000,000 each year. Well, you could argue he is paid too much money. You could if you didn't have these statistics.
Elon Musk earns approximately $23.5 billion every year. Tim Cook of Apple Inc. gets close to $770.5 million each year while Sundar Pichar of Alphabet Inc. earns about $280 million annually.
Several more guys with important jobs follow with insane salaries with Hock Tan of Broadcom tying up the top ten CEOs in America list with approximately $288 million earned every year.
You could call this an unfair comparison, but we're comparing apples to apples, not oranges. We chose players such as Mike Trout and Kylian Mbappe that get paid millions. It's only fair that we consider top earners in other important jobs.
The Average Annual Salary for Top Earning Professions
You could argue that the majority of people are not Elon Musk. You'd be right. So let's look at other professionals that taxpayers pay millions of dollars to support.
To speed this up, and frankly, end this contentious topic. We'll list down top earning professions in the USA.
- Anesthesiologist- $208,000
- Oral and Maxillofacial surgeon- $208,000
- Obstetrician and gynecologist- $208,000
- Surgeon- $208,000
- Orthodontist- $208,000
- Physician- $208,000
- Psychiatrist- $208,000
- Nurse Anesthetist- $195,610
- Pediatrician- $170,480
- Pilot- $134,630
- IT Manager- $159,010
- Lawyer- $127,990cc
- Actuary- $105,900
With this in mind, it is difficult to argue that professional athletes get paid more money than they deserve. It may seem like they are overpaid, but compared to other professions, they earn quite a decent amount of money for their work.
Any coach in sports franchises such as major league baseball, the national football league, or the national basketball association would pay a million dollars to sign any highly talented player.
Imagine Signing Haaland!
Take Erling Haaland, Manchester City's new wonder kid as an example. The giant front-man has netted 28 goals for Man City in 27 Premier League games since the summer of 2022. Professional athletes like Haaland are rarely found.
Former Arsenal coach, Arsene Wenger revealed that he almost signed Haaland before his $51.2 million annual salary at Man City according to labor statistics. Just like a highly skilled surgeon will earn top dollar, Erling Haaland has surgical precision on the pitch! Of course he'd get a high salary since other big clubs like Real Madrid wanted to sign him. It's just economics, supply and demand.
Playing at the professional level comes with various duties and responsibilities. Let's take another look at the life of a player. Are professional athletes overpaid simply because they work for public entertainment and do not save lives? NFL players and other athletes are paid based on their contribution to the team.
Would you say that athletes are paid too much money for playing a game and don't deserve to be paid as much if they had a 42-hour work week? Probably so. But the intensity of a 6-day training week is no joke. An average fit person would have trouble with one warm-up session, let alone 6 hours of gruesome exercise. Athletes get paid the same amount of money as people that do not play sports. Considering what they persevere to play for international sports teams, you could argue this is not too much money.
Food for Thought
If you want to get paid a million dollars in professional sports, you need to earn your million dollars. Many professional athletes earn so much money from the different perks that come with the job. These may be in the form of apparel merchandising, TV deals, or any other endorsement deal that comes their way.
Either way, we have an answer to the question, "are professional athletes overpaid?" Which would be a resounding no.
Whether these are NFL players or they come from other sports leagues, athletes are paid an amount of money that is synonymous with the work they do. A player's social life could make you ask, "are professional athletes overpaid?" But looking at the statistics. This does not appear to be the case. Most of us simply ignore the majority and focus on a select few.
Are professional athletes overpaid? Well, saying yes would be like looking at the tip of an iceberg. It would involve ignoring all the players that have two jobs to supplement their earnings. Those that form the bulk of the sports salary and remunerations iceberg.
Ultimately, the only logical conclusion is no, athletes are not overpaid.