I'll never stop believing most professional athletes are grossly overpaid, no matter how rare their skills. They justify their salaries by noting they can do something nobody else can. In that case, why don't astronauts make $20 million a year?
If pro athletes are one in a million, astronauts must be one in 10 million.
I've railed on astronomical player salaries, insisting that if they were drastically reduced, the supply of top athletes still wouldn't decrease. In 2001, I suggested that if the top salary in the NBA were $250,000, the personnel of the league wouldn't change.
Now I have proof.
Thank you Ricky Williams.
Williams, full-time boo-ya tester and part-time professional running back, validated my point, Monday, when he signed a one-year deal with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. He agreed to play for the embarrassingly low salary of $240,000 for one year.
Embarrassing, that is, for a former Heisman winner.
Seems that when they're finally bumped off the gravy train, most athletes quickly discover that playing games for money is a privilege, not a license. They also learn they aren't going to find another job that pays as well.
"I've learned to notice a good thing when it comes and not let it slip by," said Williams in a press conference. "You obviously make more money playing football than you do sitting at home."
No kidding. What else are they going to do that earns them millions of dollars a year? How many other jobs have guaranteed contracts?
So I reiterate: If the top salary in any professional league was $300,000 (I've updated it for inflation), we'd still be watching the same players.
Williams landed himself in this spot with his erratic behavior and inability to curb his affection for marijuana. He changed teams, quit football and tested positive for drugs four times. He talked about getting away from the game to do what he wanted.
Still under contract by the Miami Dolphins, he was suspended by the NFL for 2006, which allowed him all the free bong time he desired.
Darned if something didn't happen. He realized that in order to buy drugs, you also need money. And the way to get money is to get a job.
Next thing you know, he's holding a press conference in Canada saying things like "I'm happy to be here in Toronto, having a chance to further my career on the football field."
Not to mention furthering his career off the field.
Williams still owes the Dolphins nearly $9 million for abruptly retiring before training camp in 2004. He said he was tired of the schedule and didn't need football. But by the next season, reality had set in and he was back on the field. That apparently still didn't stop him from indulging in his favorite pastime hanging out with Mary Jane.
But you don't need a drug habit to understand there simply isn't better pay per hour than professional sports. Basketball players, for instance, work eight months a year, two or three hours a day. Throw in conditioning work and practice, they still don't come close to a 40-hour week. Yet someone as mediocre as Greg Ostertag can earn nearly $50 million in an 11-year career. The NBA minimum is $412,000, the average salary about $5 million. In the NFL, the numbers are lower but impressive nonetheless.
For five or six months' work, they average about $1.25 million.
Only about 3 percent of Americans even earn $100,000 annually.
While NFL player contracts aren't guaranteed, most American workers have no contract whatsoever.
So the next time team owners complain about the high salaries they must pay, they should do something about it: propose a maximum salary of a few hundred thousand dollars. The players' union will then huff and go on strike. The owners will take a loss for a year or two. Then the players will come back. All of them.Maybe then the fans won't have to give up such a big part of their own salaries to afford tickets.
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