At one point or another, most young children in the United States have probably been or known that kid that dreams of being a professional athlete. For myself, it was not a matter of if I was going to become one, it was always when. I would watch someone do something awesome like hit a home run, make a diving catch, or dunk a basketball, and I’d look over to my dad and ask if he was excited to watch me do that when I’m in the big leagues. Obviously I, like many kids with similar aspirations, loved the sports I played and had dreams of going professional in, but those dreams were largely driven by the lifestyle I saw these professional athletes living.
Millions of dollars, fast cars, mansions, vacations, you name it, they have it. All for what, playing some game? Professional athletes in the big three sports in America make a seemingly absurd amount of money, with 2.7 million dollars going to average players in the National Football League, 4.47 million dollars for Major League Baseball, and 7.15 million dollars for the National Basketball Association, all according to Statista’s report of the 2017/18 seasons. At a first glance, it seems like athletes are dramatically overpaid, especially if all that they do is considered playing games, but I am here to go as far as saying what they do is more than a game and they deserve the money they get paid.
The Big Picture
The market for sports in the United States, including college, professional, and even Little League, is massive. Communities love to rally around their teams and become seriously invested in them, which leads to support such that individual professional teams are being valued at well over a billion dollars, with the Houston Rockets being sold at 2.2 billion dollars recently, so it is no surprise to see that the team can afford to pay its players multiple millions of dollars each year. Teams are basically just companies and the players and staff are the employees, so when you only have to pay the salary to the amount of people that would equal the amount that a small business has with the money of an exceedingly successful business, they are all going to get paid more. The athletes are the faces of the franchise, they go out and perform and are the names that people recognize, so they will get paid more than a water boy.
What makes these companies so successful is ultimately all of us — our views on television, subscriptions to streaming services, buying merchandise, tickets to games, and anything else related to the team is actively paying the players. This is why athletes get paid so much more than other professions that are widely considered more meaningful or important to society. Unfortunately, doctors, lawyers, and military service people don’t wear jerseys and streaming surgeries or gunfights could bring up a lot of problems and complications, so we cannot really support them in that way. Something the National Collegiate Athletic Association is dealing with right now is determining whether or not they should begin to pay student athletes because they are making the schools money and do not have time themselves to try to make their own money. That idea is a whole new bag of chips that I do not want to open, but if college athletes soon may have the possibility of getting paid, what would make it okay for someone that plays a sport as their job to get paid less?
Professional athletes have to go through a lot to be where they are, it isn’t a cake walk to be the best at anything. They have to work hard in school just like everyone else, train harder than their competition, feed themselves the most nutritionally valuable foods possible, and when they make it, often times spend millions of dollars to keep their body in tip top shape, which also supports the other professions such as doctors, trainers, nutritionists, and others, but that’s beside the point. All of this goes into insuring that they are able to perform at the highest level possible, but doesn’t guarantee that it could be gone in the blink of an eye, just like Gordon Hayward in the picture above. Luckily for him, the injury he faced last year, which I spared you of actually seeing his ankle, was not career ending, but it was season ending and career altering. These athletes are working more than just during their respective sports’ seasons too, they are doing this training and practicing year round, unlike what many casual fans may think. Each one of them is in constant danger of having their career ended on the court or of the court, whether by crazed fan or pure accident, so it has to be worth their time.
Athletes Can Be Great Role Models
The key word in such a phrase is “can,” as some could also be considered pretty bad role models. It is fairly widely known that many athletes struggle to manage themselves financially, often filing for bankruptcy or making irresponsible purchases of any kind. The money often encourages struggling individuals to continue doing things they might not do if they had to be more careful about spending money, like going to bars and drinking excessively, buying drugs, and flaunting material goods. While those are all things anyone with money could do, athletes and other celebrities have more influence on the public because of their platforms and mass following. Why should children grow up idolizing these athletes, wanting to be like them if they are so often troubled?
Well, because not all athletes are like that. Actually, most either are very good people that we should love for children to look up to, or become better people as they mature. So often athletes get a bad name because so many get millions of dollars while they are still teenagers. Many athletes also came from not having a lot of money, so sudden wealth can drive anyone to do things they might not normally do. LeBron James is a prime example of a great potential role model for both children and adults. He grew up with a single mother in a small town, riding his bike to school, and became one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Not only that, this last year he created a school for struggling kids in his hometown, where he will provide each student with their own bike. The icing on the cake in favor of the man, LeBron James, is that he married his high school sweetheart and has three kids with her. LeBron is probably the ideal role model, and an extreme example, but there are many others perfectly suitable to garner such a title.
Let Them Live
The big reason there is so much money in professional sports is us, the audience. There is a reason companies pay such big bucks to have their advertisements in the championship games, especially the Super Bowl, and it isn’t because they have the same number of viewers as the Food Network those days. Not only that, different sports get paid more or less than other sports based on total revenue and profit, just like other businesses. Soccer in America isn’t as popular as basketball, so players in Major League Soccer make an average of 0.33 million dollars per year, which some quick math will say is roughly just five percent of what NBA players make on average. What happens if we cut earnings of all sports? Will professional soccer no longer exist in the United States?
Athletes are making however much we decide we want them to collectively, even if we are not directly handing them money. Imagine the Super Bowl without those funny M&M or Mountain Dew commercials, I’m pretty sure that’s all that half the viewers are watching for anyway.
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