BY OWEN SANBORN
Like some of you, I am a 20 year-old college student. Meaning that within a year, I am going to have the opportunity to find a job or employer of my choosing based on my own wants, needs and desires.
I will (hopefully) have a plethora of options to choose from, as I will have leveraged my previous experiences and talents to create a specific demand for my services. Because, after all, this is capitalistic America where you supposedly earn what you’re worth.
For some reason, the scenario I described above does not always apply to athletes and nobody seems to care.
Picture this: You’re Anthony Davis before the 2012 NBA draft. You’re the unheralded number-one prospect because of your basketball prowess and the exhibition you displayed during the NCAA Tournament a few months back.
What do you think an NBA team would pay you per year for your services if you were on the open market? $10-$12 million per year? That figure may even be a bit low.
But guess what, you’re not going to be able to negotiate that kind of contract for yourself. The NBA has a rookie scale (starting at $4,753,000 in the first year, per realgm.com) implemented that you get lumped into, hurting the ceiling of your career earnings.
On top of the limited earnings, you won’t get to choose your place of employment. No, instead you get to be selected in a draft where you have no say in where you want to play. You will just have to smile and preface the situation by stating how excited you are to have finally achieved your dream of playing in the NBA.
The basis behind these principles is for the sake of withholding “parity” within the league. A ramification of allowing an incoming prospect to choose where they want to play would be the stacking of talent. As a result, there wouldn’t be much doubt as to who would be in championship contention and thus impair the stature of the league.
However, we don’t see parity in the real job market, so why do we seek it in our sports leagues?
Last time I checked, if Google or Apple want to get their hands on the next great software engineer, there is nobody out there stopping them. That would just be referred to as “good business.”
There is no reason why athletes should not be able to immediately seek out the best situation for their careers and livelihood based on the perceived value that they have leveraged for themselves. That is a basic right in this country.
Now, instead of an athlete, you’re a technology mogul fresh out of college who has developed the latest app to command a $2 billion net worth. Technological engineering (well, math really) has been your life’s work, a talent that has been a part of your life since you were a child. Much like a seven-foot-tall person who puts a ball through a hoop.
Under the scope of capitalistic America, you will earn what you have leveraged yourself to be worth in the open market. $2 billion. You haven’t been told where your place of employment is going to be for the next half decade while your earning potential is capped or put into a “fresh out of college” salary scale.
Nobody is going to bat an eye or be up in arms over the situation. Incidentally, most will turn to themselves and say “Shucks, why didn’t I think of that?”
My question is: Why have we not made this same distinction when it comes to athletics?
Is it because we categorize them as heroes, idolizing their talents with the hope that they will take our favorite franchise out of the gutter and into the promised land?
Too often in society, athletes are dehumanized. Fans come from the perspective that players are there for their entertainment, forgetting that they are still humans trying to make a fairly compensated living just like everyone else. Ironically, the fans’ thirst for 24/7 sports content is fueling the salary boom. The ratings speak for themselves.
A common opposing argument would be: “Oh well, athletes make enough money as it is. What is the difference between $5 million and $10 million? You’re playing a kid’s game for a living.”
The difference is five million dollars!
That is a lot of dough to be leaving on the table. Especially when playing under the direction of a league that has owners raking in pools of money from media contracts, sponsorship deals, gate receipts and the growing valuations of franchises due to the product that is on the court/field.
Is it because we associate their profession with playing a game rather than an actual job that requires hours upon hours of work?
Being a professional athlete is mostly about work that goes unseen. Before you roll your eyes, consider this: would you want to wake up at 5 or 6 AM every morning during the summer, shoot thousands of shots, and do countless conditioning/ball handling drills?
Yeah, me neither. I would much rather enter numbers into a calculator for seven hours, go home, eat some chips, play with my dog and call it a day.
Sure, athletes have a set of attributes that are the result of hitting the genetic lottery, but sustaining those skills and becoming a professional is a rigorous process that few can withstand.
I do not know the answers to these questions. Maybe someday we will get there.
LeBron James has become the most powerful athlete today — perhaps even ever — by altering the landscape of an entire league with his free agency decisions and continually signing one year deals to hold leverage over his front office and owner to surround him with a championship level roster.
An athlete having leverage over an owner, what a concept.