Truth is a gem that is found at a great depth; whilst on the surface of the world all things are weighed by the false scale of custom. – Lord Byron
Quick, who is the eleventh man on your favorite pro basketball team? No answer. How about the backup long snapper on your favorite pro football team? Still nothing, huh? You certainly must know the utility infielder of your favorite baseball team? Crickets you say. One more, name the backup defenseman on your pro hockey team? Thankfully, there was no gun to your head during this brief quiz. The reality is that professional sports is made up of more of these guys and less of the well-heeled Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez, and Peyton Manning’s whose salaries get tossed around on ESPN and average Joe/Jane sees these numbers and somehow translates that into all athletes must be making gazillionbajillion dollars.
The owners’ seem to get a pass on how much they make in perpetuity off the short-lived labor of these athletes. Many have been trained for a lifetime for a career that normally is over well before any of them will see a second contract. So which owners make the most? That would go to NFL owners’ whose median profits (the money they get to take home after all the bills are paid) at $28.9 million. In fact, the NFL is the only league where the owners annual median profits exceeds the salaries of the highest paid players in the league. The best part for NFL owners is they get to make their money without ever taking a brutal hit. Following the NFL is surprisingly, Major League Baseball with owners bringing in $14.6 million in median profits, next is the National Basketball Association whose owners pull an annual median of $12 million, and lastly the National Hockey League where owners see $5.5 million in median profits. It is worth noting that on a profit per game basis that National Football League owners dramatically come out on top making approximately $1.8 million profit per game, while National Basketball Association owners pull approximately $150 000 profit per game, Major League Baseball owners $90 000 profit per game, and National Hockey League owners squeak out a paltry almost but not quite $70 000 profit per game. Now you can see why NFL owners would love to add a game or two to the season.
This is a tale of social caution. First, just because it looks like a lot does not always mean that it is. No athlete plays forever and only a very select handful have endorsements that can carry them beyond their playing days. More importantly, it is a cautionary tale of how much hope we place on young African American men whose families often see them as ways out of poverty or the local coaches see them as their own meal ticket to a big time (and well paid) coaching gig. This is often done at the sake of developing them intellectually. Less thinking and more playing could be the athlete’s creed. The problem is the athlete does not realize this and the leeches around him due to their own interest reinforce it. Hoping to enjoy the ride of fame, glory, and short lived fortune with these athletes.
Numbers may not lie, but they can sure be misleading. A normal work career for anyone starts around 22 and retirement comes at 65. Career earnings tend to increase with time, experience, and promotions. However, what if you had to earn all of your earnings in under six years and it had to last you until you were 65. Like a lot of professions athletes have pensions they receive once they get to the retirement age of 65. Unfortunately, it is no small task getting there as most are ill-equipped to handle finances and tend to hire poor advisors and make very bad investments as we saw on ESPN’s 30 for 30 on the broke athlete. Again, many who have trained their whole lives just to play sports tend to have very limited career opportunities post sports and very few make the transition well. An examination of their earnings spread out to 65 paints a very different picture of what these athletes truly earn. Taking into account athletes average careers in each sport, median earnings, gross pay, taxes (which pay at the highest tax – owners do not though) and fees to advisors, and dividing that out over the number of years to 65 shows us a much more accurate picture of athletes incomes.
Athletes’ Median Salaries If Spread Out Until Age 65
NFL Players – $34 200
NBA Players – $144 000
MLB Players – $85 600
NHL Players – $81 300
Given this reality, it is not hard to imagine then why athletes go broke (especially NFL athletes – yikes). Most are the only income in their household and living lifestyles as we know well above the salary figures we see above. Again, perception sometimes runs counter to reality despite the airs many athletes put on of being well off. The national median salary for an elementary teacher is $53 173 or 55.5 percent greater than what the NFL median salary is. A dentist median salary is $150 000 making them even higher paid than NBA players who go broke at a 60 percent clip. How often do you hear of a broke dentist? Exactly.
There is nothing wrong with earning a living playing sports. Someone has to entertain us, right? Sports have been a glorified part of humanity since man’s existence on this Earth and I do not foresee that changing anytime soon. However, like many gladiators of Rome and those of today, the fame presents a false reality and the true spoils go to the men in the shadows. Are you not entertained?