by Sophia Lipp
Photos Courtesy of sportsinformationtraders.com and NY Daily News
Love or money? Most of the time, these two opposing reasons exist like different sides of the same coin. Professional athlete ranks among the highest-paid jobs in the world. Players like LeBron James and Alex Rodriguez make millions of dollars yearly in salary, commission and endorsements. In fact, the average worth of one NFL team is speculated to be around $1.1 billion, with the Dallas Cowboys boasting a worth of $1.65 billion.
With all this money floating around the NBA, NFL MLB and other professional sports organizations, you’d expect players to be making at least $1 million per year, easily. This does not hold true for many professional athletes. In fact, a group of Minor League Baseball players sued the MLB in 2014 on the basis that they were not even paid a minimum wage salary for a year’s worth of work. And unfortunately, unless you are a LeBron or A-Rod, this is the case.
With salaries for certain players so high and others so low, one may wonder what the motivation is behind these professional athletes. While some may argue that true passion is their driving force, others have ample reason to believe they are in it for the green.
And though this is a tough question to answer for many reasons, the primary one is that each athlete is paid entirely differently based on sport, team and position. To make things simpler, take a look at college athletes.
“In college sports you see a lot more athletes playing for the love of the game,” said Marisa Ingemi (COM ’17). “Especially in sports like lacrosse, it’s gotta be for the love because even if they go pro, they’re not going to be making the top salaries, so you definitely see a lot more passion.”
CNN‘s March 2014 article “Playing College Sports: A Long, Tough Job,” included an in-depth exploration of the sacrifices that college athletes have to make every day. These students often work the 14-hour training schedule as professional athletes, yet the NCAA projects that only around 3% of college athletes actually make it pro.
Considering these statistics, it’s safer to say that college athletes play for the love of the game, since they’re not actually making any money (although most Division I schools provide plenty of non-monetary perks to their athletes). Following that same logic, most professional athletes must play for the love of the money, right? Well, not exactly.
As noted before, a lot of these athletes don’t make anywhere close to the amount of money that big names like David Ortiz or Eli Manning make. But even more so, the sacrifices major and minor league players make should not go unnoticed.
Athletes are expected to be on top of their game during the grueling regular season, as well as all the traveling of the offseason, preseason and playoffs. It’s hard to argue that anyone would choose that lifestyle for the amount of pay they receive, which can be as low as $20,000 per year for Minor League players.
Additionally, in every sports season there is also substantial controversy involving a famous athlete and some kind of performance-enhancing substance, like steroids. The usual argument against this behavior is that these substances diminish the integrity of the game, but what most critics don’t keep in mind is that these athletes’ salaries rely on how well they’re playing.
It’s universally acknowledged that the integrity of the sport should be upheld under all circumstances, but there are a lot of pressures that come from being financially dependent on athletics. In many cases, it’s not a question of love or money for these athletes, but simply a decision that is essential in pursuing any career: you need money to live.
It’s important to not speak generally, as each player has their own reasons for pursuing a career in sports. But whether they’re making a multi-million dollar salary or not, collegiate and professional athletes sacrifice a lot to simply play a game.