Are Athletes Overpaid

Do we really want to know what we are asking of our professional athletes?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is going to sit out the next two races in the Sprint Cup Chase because of concussions.  This is the equivalent of say Matt Ryan missing a playoff game for the Atlanta Falcons.  I have no problem with it.

I have no problem with it because sometimes what we ask of our athletes is too much.  I am not talking about being a role model.  Anyone can be a child’s role model, just as long as a parent does his job in explaining that role model’s humanness when he inevitably shows his feet of clay.

I mean at some level sports fans think of these athletes as gladiators or chariot drivers in the Roman Coliseum and that any physical sacrifice is done for our greater entertainment.

Players in the National Football League have a life expectancy around ten years less than the average US male.  Let that sink in for a moment.  They willingly participate in an activity that takes years off their lives for our collective entertainment.  Think about that the next time you criticize an NFL player for holding out for a bigger paycheck.  This is a sport where your season or career can end on one play and the only paycheck that is guaranteed is the one already in your bank account.

This is not to say we should not criticize bad or apathetic play or churlish behavior.  The next time you call a player overpaid or say that you would play for free, think about Eric LeGrand or Dennis Byrd or Darryl Stingley.

My favorite thing is when fans say they would play their favorite sport for free.  No you would not.  You may play pick-up games in the park with your friends for free on the weekend.  That is not the same level of commitment of the professional athlete.  Remember, their job is to entertain us through football/basketball/soccer/baseball/hockey.  Some do it because it is something they have loved it since they were 6 years old.  Others because they are good at it and someone will pay them to do it.  Either way, it is their primary occupation and they should be paid what the market will bear, and you would expect the same thing.

That brings us back to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and actually to almost all professional athletes.  Junior is going to race again.  He is going to sit out the two races or whatever the doctors make him miss and then he is going to come back.  Why?  He has more money than he will ever spend and he has his own racing team and other business interests.  Why will he go back?  Because it is part of whom he is.  That is the same with most athletes.  Their self-worth and their self-perception is tied up with this thing they have chosen to do.

So, they willingly risk their physical well-being for our entertainment for lots of money.  That gives us the right to criticize play and criticize them for being jerks, but not to criticize them for being overpaid.  Why, we are the ones paying them by buying tickets and merchandise.

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