During the early 1900s, professional athletes such as baseball players in the United States, like “Shoeless Joe” Jackson and Eddie Cicottee earned $6,000-$7,000 per year, which is the equivalent to $46,000-$5,000 in present day. These rates are comparable to blue collar worker today, who earns between $29,000-$40,000 per year. Although athletes still earn more than blue-collar workers today, wages earned by professional athletes in the 1900s were still moderate compared to present day. There has been a shift in the scales of the structural process of salaries acquires by professional athletes. There have been three main periods: the reserve clause period 1965-1974, the transition period 1976-1977, and the free agency period 1986-1990.The free agency period paved the way for professional sport teams and institutions to compete for talented players. This period, which is still ongoing today, gives the player a freedom to sign a contract with any team, and to seek out offers from other teams.
This article will present several factors as to why athletes are not overpaid, by discussing the characteristics of a professional athlete, the athlete as a “real” profession, the athlete in today’s socio-economic standard, and the athlete’s life in relation to society. Through these factual presentations, it can be deduced that athletes are not overpaid, but their salaries merely reflect the socio-economic norms of the twenty-first century.
The life of a professional athlete requires a high level of commitment and dedication. The average time spent training by a professional athlete is around 23 hours a week, over a period of 8 years. Although training methods and regimen vary from each athlete, a survey on professional athletes which states that all athletes have the common characteristics of including training and diet into their lifestyle over a prolonged period of time in order to reach a world class level in their field. Other than the rigorous training that an athlete has to maintain throughout his professional career, athletes also have to face a high risk of injury during training or a game, which if caused can result in damaging their career. For example, the injury faced by David Busst in 1996, who used to play professional football for Manchester United, broke his leg in two places on the pitch, which brought an end to his rising career. Due to his inability to participate in sports again, he was forced to retire and coach football teams. Furthermore, an athlete’s career is short-lived in comparison to other careers. The general retirement age for an athlete is 33, whereas in other working fields people can work until the age of 65-68, which is considered to be the normal age of retirement. It is also important to note, that not all athletes reach a high level of fame and success. The odds of an athlete reaching a professional level is very slim, due to the extreme level of competition in the sport, and the effects scouts have on picking athletes. Furthermore, it can be stated that by assessing all the factors and characteristics surrounding an athletes lifestyle, and the risks he has to take during his life and career, are equivalent to the amount of money earned per year.
There are several comparisons made between the income earned between professional athletes and people in other professions. There is a general claim, which states that the disparity between incomes earned in these careers is unfair. However, it is important to stop placing athletes and other professions in the same category. When assessing the income earned by athletes, one should make a comparison between athletes. There lays a large gap in the income earned by athletes. Not all athletes are paid high salaries per year, and this is due to the free agency norm. When assessing the average salaries of non-professional athletes in 2006, the salaries ranged from $125,000 to $11,000. In comparison to salaries earned by blue-collar workers that year, the Bureau of Labour Statistics shows that the average salary earned was $36,500. Much generalization has been made by the public that all athletes are overpaid, however, a large number of athletes who play for leagues under the age of 21 suffer the consequences of free agency, who are signed by teams and get low rates of pay, even though they put in the same effort and time as their experienced teammates. The latter is evident in European football, where there is a large gap in salaries between the players, as Simmons states, “most European footballers will settle for a modest fraction of Beckham’s compensation”. Simmons states that, only a few athletes have “celebrity appeal” such as David Beckham or Thierry Henry. Furthermore, their status as a “celebrity” is what attracts teams to place a high bid on the player, and for the player to be signed with several endorsements. For example, David Beckham’s contract with LA Galaxy in the United States was worth around $180 million.
There is a high link between the amount of endorsements and “broadcast rights” and high income’s for football players in Germany. Yet there is a large gap between players in “top division” European football and players ranking in lower divisions. Thus, players in top division football attract more TV time and endorsements, which is a direct cause of high salaries earned by some professional athletes. Moreover, it is important to reaffirm that audiences tend to make generalizations about athletes being overpaid, however the reality reflects that only a select few have ‘made it’ to an elite level and were paid with large incomes.
Several studies have founded that society plays a dominant role in affecting the salaries of athletes. By buying overpriced match tickets, team merchandise, sports gear or wear, travelling to watch professional games, and even subscribing to TV channels to view these games, are all reasons for the continuous increasing rate of salaries for professional athletes.
There is a general double standard when it comes to salaries, as fans always want the “best player” to be part of the team they support. Fans want athletes in their team to be extremely talented, well poised, and are regarded as a role model to younger generations. When compared to teachers, who are also role model for children, it can be stated that a large audience of millions of people does not view teachers. The large amount of televised and documented attention an athlete receives causes him to always have to be well groomed and mannered. There is also a large invasion of privacy, as the aspects of an athlete’s life are always under scrutiny. Thus, the notion of seeing highly paid athletes as “unfair” is socially constructed and is void, as society is the root cause of formulating this needed perception of having and supporting professional athletes.
Athletes are constantly in the spotlight. They have to sacrifice their privacy and time spent with family, dedicating most of their time performing activities to boost the image of the team. Thompson states that athletes are always on a “platform”. They are constantly on national television, signing autographs, or being interviewed. They have to portray this image of a successful role model for younger generations, whereby they can connect to a highly respected figure in society, and aim to work hard to be successful as well. Also, athletes have to constantly work on their image to please society. If any mistakes are made during a game, or with any personal decision, it badly affects their image. Thus, they are constantly being judged in relation to their performance.
There is a lot of criticism towards localized spending on stadiums and arenas for top-level professional teams. In the USA for example, $8 billion was spent between 2000-2009 in building stadiums and sport facilities. This large amount of spending shows that there are large economic benefits that a country gains from enlarging and endorsing professional sports institutions and clubs. This can be viewed in the slogan used in San Fransisco when the new stadium was being built which states “Build the Stadium-Create the Jobs!” Moreover, the sports industry is a large business, which attracts a large amount of tourists and private investors. So even though some professional athletes are paid high salaries, their income is being filtered back into the GDP of the country when large games take place, such as Premier League or Champions League in European football.
To conclude, from the factors assessed in this paper, it can be stated that the perception of professional athletes in society will not change over time. There is an ongoing double standard whereby fans and audiences always state that being a professional athlete is not a ‘real job’ compared to other occupations, and that they are highly overpaid. However, it is essential to take a deeper look into the characteristics of an athlete, his routine, hardships, and what the athlete provides for society. An athlete is always under social criticism, and is expected to behave in a way, which is exemplary to younger generations. An athlete is meant to provide a positive impact on society, which is something that is priceless. Also, the concept of a professional athlete has brought great economic opportunities to local communities, whereby local jobs can be created, and the government can benefit from factors such as tourism and the opportunities for private investment. In conclusion, the athlete provides a positive impact on society, and that in return is priceless.