Professional Athletes' Salaries

by Jimmie Turner
In 1998 Barry Bonds, an outfielder for Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants, signed a two year $11.5 million contract. With that contract he earns $5.75 million a season. The President of the United States gets paid two-hundred thousand dollars a year. Barry Bonds’ contract entitles him to almost twenty-nine times as much money a year than the President. Which is more important to the livelihood of the American people, an outfielder or the President? It is a simple answer. There would be pandemonium if the US was to never have a President, a third of the government would be non-existent. Who, besides a San Francisco fan, would notice that Barry Bonds was gone, and more importantly who would care. Much respect should be given to all athletes professional, and amateur, but along with that respect does not have to be millions of dollars.

A few years ago, fresh out of college and drafted by the Redskins, Heath Shuler refused to report to training camp because he thought he was not being offered enough money. Shuler and the Redskins eventually reached a compromise and when he showed up to camp he was given a starting position. In the first half of the season the Redskins learned the truth about their "great first round draft pick"; he was a bust. He was benched and fellow rookie Gus Frerrotte, who made a little more than half of what Shuler was making, was named as a starter. Last time Shuler was mentioned in the news he was the third-string quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.

All professional athletes are not money hungry. There are many examples of players who give to charities or accept lower salaries as their retirement nears. Darrell Green of the Redskins is famous for his generosity, and he has set up his own charity. Many football players give time and money to the United Way, which has now become one of the most famous charities because of publicity and donations. This summer when the Redskins’ camp opened linebacker Ken Harvey knew his time as a NFL player was nearing its end, he thought he could help the team in one way or another. He was willing tp negotiate a lower contract with the Redskins and he knew his play would be limited; he just wanted to play. Despite his attempt to come back, he retired in the middle of training camp because of his injuries. His lack of greed was noted as he gave his best shot.

Many people do not care that the players are paid outrageous wages. However, anybody who likes to go to a professional sports game in person should. Tickets for seats at professional games range from twenty dollars to two-hundred dollars. Why do they cost so much? How else is the owner going to pay the wages and other expenses while making a profit that is worth the time, money, and trouble? It is not the owner’s fault that he has to pay as much as fifty players over a million dollars a year. This is a problem for all sports fans whether they know it or not. All professional sports commissioners have noticed this problem. Most professional sports demand that each team remain within the limits of a salary cap. Baseball is the most notorious of the few sports that does not have a salary cap. In 1995 most pro baseball players went on strike when the league tried to introduce a mandatory team salary cap. The players won the battle and no salary cap is now in place. However, the fact that there is a salary cap does not significantly change the high wages of the players. In 1997 the salary cap for the NBA was $24.4 million, the average player’s salary was $2.2 million per year. In Major League Baseball the average salary in 1997 was about $1.4 million per year.

The fact is, the outrageous pay of many of today’s prominent sports figures is not going to change. One thing that people associate with professional sports is money. It is easy to say there is a problem but it is not easy to do anything about it. The players are going to be reluctant, and probably refuse, to accept lower wages because once they have gotten a sniff of the riches they will do anything to get more.

This article appeared in the September 1999 edition of the Suitland High Echo.
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Updated 06/18/00