Busting the whiny millionaire NFL players myth

Submitted by DesHow21 on March 4th, 2011 at 2:29 PM


Time and again this tired argument is made that NFL players are just being crybaby millionaires that want to make 60 times what normal people (like teachers and coal miners) make as opposed to 50 times.


Here is my argument:


NFL'ers have a 4 year career on average . So at the median salary of $770k, they make 3 mill in a lifetime.


A UM grad has a career of roughly 30 years (say) at an avg salary of $70k. That adds up to 2.1 mill.


So there really isn't too much difference between an avg NFL'er (who by the way is at a  very very high percentile in terms of athletic talent every year just to even make it into the league) and a UM grad (who I am sure is also pretty darn high in terms in intellectual talent just to make it into UM ). 


Now if you compare NFL median salaries (and lifetime income) to a coal miner, I am going to stop you right there and say, the coal miner isnt making squat because that's just how much value our society puts for that labor. You could also argue that computer geeks pulling down $100k a year shouldnt get paid so much more than coal miners and teachers and firemen but that is a whole other argument. 


Note also that I am not even factoring the massive hazards of their "work" environment and the long-terms disabilities that they have to deal with after going through their NFL careers.



March 4th, 2011 at 3:07 PM ^

The most dangerous jobs on the planet don't get paid squat and a job that gets paid in the top .00001% (if not less) is lower than that and you're still talking about how dangerous it is?  If it's really that dangerous the NFLPA wouldn't be bitching about money - they'd be bitching about working conditions and mandating that players wear heavier shoes to slow them down and helmets with big pads on them. Yet the crux of the whole thing is money, not safety.  So when the NFLPA stops bitching about money and starts bitching about those things and mandating extra padded helmets I'll agree with you but until then they are making it quite clear what they are after and it's not a safer NFL - it's more money.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:10 PM ^

I don't believe that the risk is factored in, because I believe humans as a species are pretty much incapable of adequately gauging the risk of anything.  

And safety IS part of the dispute.  That's why the players are fighting so hard against the 18 game schedule, and why they want better pension benefits.  


March 4th, 2011 at 4:15 PM ^

They aren't fighting against it as much as they are making sure they are well compensated for those extra 2 games. 

I will never feel sorry for a FB player as much as I'll never feel sorry for a team owner.  They both make more an extraordinary amount of money, more than most people can dream. 

They know all well and good what the risks are and they are obviously well compensated for those risks, otherwise they wouldn't be playing the game.... well except for stanzi cause he loves america too much.


March 4th, 2011 at 4:50 PM ^

There was a great article in one of the big MSM outlets last year about ticket prices peaking at this point. They were citing the fact that ticket prices have increased like 2500% in the last 25 years and made the case that it was unsustainable. The whole backdrop was the new Yankee Stadium and the problems they've had selling their ultra-premium ridiculous tickets.

So in an economic sense, maybe you don't have to wait long for prices to begin to fall.

Blue in Yarmouth

March 4th, 2011 at 3:17 PM ^

They get well compensated for that IMHE. Go ask your local firefighters what they get paid, or local police. How about the Marine serving over in Iraq. Get over this "they take on such risk" crap. They get paid plenty to assume that risk.


That's funny. I one paragraph you say they aren't taking the risks into account and the next you say the reason they don't want the 18 games is because of the added risk...which is it?


March 4th, 2011 at 3:19 PM ^

I would gladly pay teachers and police officers and firefighters far more money.  And I'd like to both pay soldiers far more money and not send them to places where they're likely to die in the first place.

I also think NFL players, despite being well-compensated, face some appalling health risks --the full extent of which we've only recently discovered -- and that we're not doing nearly enough to ameliorate those risks. 


March 4th, 2011 at 3:25 PM ^

why do you view that as a contradiction?  Everyone knows that driving a car is really dangerous.  That's why most people support seat belts and other safety standards.  

Yet, something like 90% of drivers consider themselves to be in the top 50% of all drivers, and no one thinks they personally will get into a car accident.  It's a cognative bias that we all experience.  Which is why no 25 year old safety thinks he's going to be the one with dementia.  


March 4th, 2011 at 3:14 PM ^

I think it was a good piece, but I don't understand the whole "siding with the owners" or "siding with the players."  I think that both sides have valid points, but in the end, sports are a business.   The players want to make as much $$ as possible, as do the owners.  The owners would have no product to sell, but for the players, but the players would have no league to play for, but for the owners. 


March 4th, 2011 at 3:10 PM ^

but trying to compare nfl players to the average joe is rather pointless imo.  capitalism has rewarded their freak abilities and (for the most part) their hard work with what the market deems to be an appropriate wage.  as average joes, if we try to say that they dont deserve what they have, we also have to admit that we have a conflict of interest and a heavy dose of envy.  nfl players have risks involved in their profession as well.  in my job as a software engineer, i do NOT have to worry about the following things:

  • crazy stalkers
  • concussions
  • on-the-job injuries costing me my job
  • on-the-job injuries causing life-long chronic conditions (e.g. arthritis, memory loss, etc)
  • on-the-job injuries shortening my life
  • papprazzi
  • shady characters
  • not being able to live a private life
  • having my every action scrutinized by the public
  • having very little job security

people look at nfl players, and see the noisy minority of those who flaunt their money, get in trouble, and throw away their millions.  they don't see the practice squad guys and special teamers who sacrifice their bodies for money.  its a tough life.  these guys often have to live on the road, away from family and friends.


so now, if you want me to have to choose between these players, who seem to be trying hard to negotiate in good faith and looking out for their best interests, and the billionaire owners who take public money for stadiums, while sailing around in 400-foot yachts that have submarines, but want even more money because, fuck the players, that's why, THEN, its a pretty easy choice.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:11 PM ^

If for no other reason than they are trying to get the average joe to feel bad for them.  The rest of your points are valid but when they are trying to play the media game and trying to get the average Joe to defend them against these evil owners when they themselves make more than CEO's I think it's a pretty fair comparison.


When you're filthy rich you aren't going to get my sympathy because you're looking at a potential pay cut that still leaves you making more in 1 year than I do in 15 or 20 I'm just not going to care.


To be clear - they are both whiney, I'm not excusing the owners here either. I hate the fact that my CEO makes millions of dollars at the same time one of my friends gets laid off but if he had gotten paid, say, 500k a year and go laid off I really wouldn't feel that badly for him...


March 4th, 2011 at 4:51 PM ^

You do know that these owners, with some exceptions, have made their millions/billions through other business ventures before they bought these teams.  And, every job has it's risks and these players know what they are getting into when they sign up.  They are very well compensated for their risks.  They are given the most advanced safety equipment that money can buy and often times they refuse to wear them (thigh/knee pads, and safer helmets) which is rediculous when they are talking about safety hazards.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:06 PM ^

Others have countered it nicely, as it is senseless unless you presume (under his example) that the average 26 year old just out of football,  having made 3 million in 4 years will never make another salary for the rest of his life. That won't happen. The average ex-football player is in a FANTASTIC situation compared to almost anyone else on the planet. Fact.

HOWEVA, I have no sympathy for the owners at all in the current dispute. I have no desire as a fan to see an 18 game season, and it is indisputably more dangerous for players to do so. I also think it will make the quality of the game decline as injuries and fatigue increase, resulting in more games when teams come out "flat" and uninspired.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:07 PM ^

I also hate the "NFL whiny millionaires" argument.  If these guys have the ability to go out and command big $$ for their services - no different than top lawyers, investment bankers, surgeons and actors - more power to them.  I hate villification of wealth and success.

But, are a few flaws in your argument:

1.  YOur calculation assumes a 4 year NFL career vs. a 30 year career for the average UM grad.  You ignore that the NFL player then gets 26 years to enjoy his $$, while the average joe is still working 40-60 hours a week to make the same amount (actually, less still).

2.  Time value of money.  The NFL player makes his $3 million now - in the next 4 years.  If he is smart, he can bank that $$, invest it and grow it over time to real wealth.  The working guy doesn't get the money up front, he has to earn it over 30 years, so he does not have this advantage, which can be significant.

3. NFL players subject themselves to life threatening or severe injuries.  While my boss may be an ass, and my co-workers can be cut-throat, I will never have David Harris slam me into the ground with the force that only David Harris can muster.  When these guys retire, they often have a lifetime of treatment, surgeries, pain or partial disability. 

Again, to me, none of these arguments matter.  We still live in a capitalistic society - you are worth what someone is willing to pay you.  If the Colts believe that Peyton Manning's presence on the team brings in more than the $10 million (or whatever he makes) that they pay him, then that is what he should be paid.  If they do not feel that he is worth it, then they should not pay it.  


March 4th, 2011 at 3:13 PM ^

Regardless, both sides are complete idiots and living in a world that is outside reality.  I am so hopeful both the NFL and NBA are locked out for the entire season.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:18 PM ^

Why do you hope for both sports to be locked out for an entire season?  Has being a M fan in Ohio clouded your judgment (and if so, having driven through Ohio, I understand how this can happen)?

If these two leagues lock out, aside from how much this will reduce the level of life enjoyment for so many of us, do you realize how many people will lose their jobs?  No, not just the players or those affiliated with the teams - how about the food venders, the bar workers, the hot bartenders at the sports bars, the guy that sells the NFL and NBA nerchandise at his store, the hot bartenders at the sports bars (deserves repeating), the back office staff, the ad agency employees involved in the sports accounts? 

I can't see why anyone would root for a lockout.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:39 PM ^

They are well aware of the fact that they have a dangerous profession.

Because of the danger involved, and the money they bring in, they are compensated heavily.

If football is so dangerous, and they are so fearful about life after football:  Then take your free education, actually do something with it, and when you get out of college use it to enter a different profession.

Robert Smith retired after he led the league in rushing because he didn't think it was worth the risk.

If you think it is worth the risk, then take your large sums of money, and don't be a fucking idiot with it so you're not broke when you're 40.

Personally, I didn't need scientific studies to tell me that repeatedly getting hit, and hit in the head, at full speed for 10-12 years is probably not good for my health.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:22 PM ^

The opening post belies the very argument it's trying to make:  it's pretty clear from the numbers that given the time value of money (plus pensions, which are ignored but exist for all players once you've played a season), football players DO make a ton more than the average grad.

With respect to injuries, the players choose to enter this field, and one can argue that the exorbitant compensation takes into account the increased health risks.  Football makes money in part because of the rules of the game include big hits, which means more interest and entertainment, which in turn means more money going in.

I'm guessing most people don't side with the owners vs. the players, but the point made in this thread is a misguided argument.  Trying to argue that football players aren't making a huge amount more than the average worker is asinine.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:24 PM ^

Why should an NFL player have the right to work for four years and be set for life without every working again?  Sorry: it's not a right; it's a privilege.  And most of them are a bunch of arrogant, entitled millionaires. 

When the salaries are so high that the average fan can't afford to go to the games anymore, the players are making too much.  Economists can insist that all ticket prices are based on supply and demand all they want, but the blacked out games in the Detroit and Tampa Bay markets are proving that the supply of tickets is now exceeding the demand. 

Sadly, the prices can't go down because the owners will start losing money.

Another issue in all sports, but especially hockey and baseball, is that many small-market teams can't pay competitive salaries and make a profit.  The Florida Marlins lost money to win a World Series.  The Tampa Bay Lightning don't make a profit until they get to the semis. 

 Anyway, it should not be written in stone that the "average" NFL player should never have to work another day in his life just because he has finished playing football.  If they don't want to go to class and get their degrees, let them flip burgers at Mickey Dee's for minimum wage.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:28 PM ^

do not impact ticket prices.  Owners charge the highest amount that will still fill the stadium (or maximize profits), regardless of payroll. That's why ticket prices don't suddenly decrease when owners cut payroll.  


March 4th, 2011 at 4:26 PM ^

Well, using your logic, it is also not a "right" that fans will be able to get tickets at a price that they consider to be affordable.

Also, it is not "written in stone" that an average player can retire after 4 years.  But, it is a reality that certain professions simply pay a lot more than others.  Actors can make $20 million per movie.  Why are you not railing against them?  Investment bankers can make tens, even hundreds of millions, in a great year - why not rail against them.  I am a lawyer at a big Wall Street firm - the senior partners here can make over $5 million in a year. 

The point is that we do not live in a communist country where we are all paid what some arbitor considers to be a "fair wage."  We live in a capitalist country where wages are determined by market forces.  If the players can convince the owners that they are worth the salaries that are being paid, more power to them. 


March 4th, 2011 at 3:40 PM ^

I've got to give this the dumb thread of the day award.  What exactly are you shooting for here?  Not everybody spends 30 years doing their first choice of careers.  If the first doesn't work out, you get another job.  If they get 4 years of good education to fall back on, what exactly is the problem here?  Moving on.


March 4th, 2011 at 4:30 PM ^

Do you really believe this?  If you are being sarcastic, please disregard the below.  If not:

I hate to break it to you, but the NFL is not a charitable organization.  The owners do not invest hundreds of millions - yes, they take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the bank to buy these teams - for charitable purposes.  They make this investment to make a profit.  If the owners did not make this investment, the precious fans would not have a league to play in.

Same with the players - they are not there to play for your enjoyment (even if this is a nice benefit to their profession).  They are playing to make a living.  They spend time away from their families, subjecting their bodies to abuse and the risk of serious injury.  They are constantly in the media spotlight, often unable to go out to a simple dinner with their kids without being mobbed.  Not crying for them, but they are entitled to make as much money as they can convince someone to pay them for their services.

Would you be willing to take less from your job in order for your company to pass the savings along to customers?  If so, you are a better man than I am.


March 4th, 2011 at 4:36 PM ^

Agreed, with the small caveat that players are paid to entertain. Yes, they play football, but like any professional athlete, their job comes down to entertaining.

And it doesn't make you a bad person to not take less, it makes you a rational one.


March 4th, 2011 at 4:59 PM ^

I believe he means that the owners and players should both come to a deal so that the cost of attending an NFL game is more reasonable for the average American.  When the cost of attending an NFL game is reaching 100 bucks average a ticket, it is hard for a family to be able to pay that amount.


March 4th, 2011 at 6:40 PM ^

The owners to whom it's all about money (not all of them) shouldn't have been approved. They're stewards of the game and sometimes what's good for the bottom line isn't good for football. The potential 18 game regular season is a good example.

The owners would be wise to keep the bigger picture in mind. There was a time boxing and even rowing were front page news. Football hasn't been #1 for that long and there's no law dictating that it will stay there.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:49 PM ^

To me, it looks like you are making an argument that they don't need any more money. A player can live off of $3m for their life, if they live a modest life and invest properly. Then, on top of that, they have all the tools they need to pull an annual salary if necessary.

I understand the point you are trying to make, and I agree with that in general, but it seems to me you are going about it the wrong way.


March 4th, 2011 at 3:57 PM ^

Son, you didn't go to M to earn $70K/year for the rest of your life.  You should be well past $100K moving into your mid 30's.  Depending on how the ball bounces after that, you should be around $140K the rest of the way.  Unless you're a hippie, which, then write/paint/create my good man.  This beautiful world has room for all of us.

But $70K?  Crikey that's depressing


March 4th, 2011 at 4:01 PM ^

Why do we keep comparing this to our jobs? For all intents and purposes, this has to be looked at in perspective.  The entire entertainment industry (actors, singers, sports) is created because of what people have made it.  They are millionaires because we love football, we create the market and the demand for them.  Do I envy them? Yes.  Do I think they're overpaid? No.  I'm the reason they make what they make.  The corporation I work for gives bonuses yearly based on our performance.  The better we do, the more I make.  Why can't the players get the same?  I'd sure be kicking and screaming if my company all of a sudden said, "We just had an awesome year.  As for those bonuses, we're cutting them back to %5 instead of your usual %10, because you guys were the driving force behind our record gains.  Thank you for your dedication"  

Does that make any sense?  Who's getting the raw end of that??

Chadillac Grillz

March 4th, 2011 at 4:59 PM ^

They are also in a different tax bracket each year. They lose about half their money to Uncle Sam. I'm sure there are tons of guys in the league who don't net anywhere near $3 million. I wouldn't say they all have my sympathy..but it is a mixed bag in any form of pro sports or entertainment. You can be "rich" and lose it all. Just take entertainment/music for example, when you are promoted you are promoted in a way to make you look like you have a certain lifestyle to appeal to the masses (by necessity). The image that is projected to the people is often not the reality. Do they have my sympathy? No, and they probably don't want it. But some of their situations certainly don't make me as overly envious as it does to other people looking at the same person(s).

Clarence Beeks

March 4th, 2011 at 5:45 PM ^

"NFL'ers have a 4 year career on average . So at the median salary of $770k, they make 3 mill in a lifetime.

A UM grad has a career of roughly 30 years (say) at an avg salary of $70k. That adds up to 2.1 mill."

Your assumption is that the NFL palyer will never work again after their NFL career is over.  I have a hard time believing that would be the case.


March 4th, 2011 at 10:06 PM ^

OK, so I have several problems with the OP's logic. Many other posters beat me to the most obvious point that getting 3mil up front versus spreading 2 mil over 3 decades is a huge economic advantage, just spend a couple hours with a financial advisor and even this average NFLer has set up his family for several generations. Not to mention he received a free education and can start a second career (by your logic his Michigan degree should earn him another 2mil). And the Mr. Average NFLer that we are talking about that spends 3-4 years in the league right? Although the rigors of taking NFL hits for 3-4 years is no doubt impressive, it is nothing like the guys who did it for nearly a decade that we all point to when talking about the brain injuries. While he may suffer some impairments from his time in the league, he is by no means suffering the worst (on average. I realize there are the rare cases of cervical spinal injuries etc., but the OP was concerning himself with the average NFLer and so am I).


March 5th, 2011 at 1:22 AM ^

3 million in three years means they have 27 years of compounded interest... plus 27 years vacation.

Now, compare that with 2.1 million in 30 years of work.  Let's begin the discussion again.


March 6th, 2011 at 8:03 PM ^

I didn't see this posted, so forgive me if it was already mentioned:

You have to deduct agents' and other professional negotiation and bonus fees that can take from 15% to 25% of the player's income, and often more.

I'm not stating this to say that the market isn't overpaying players. I don't have enough experience in football to actually know how to value NFL entertainment stars' incomes.

I do know that there are far fewer NFL caliber players than there are very able professionals like lawyers, corporate managers and doctors, so the demand for those players is higher than the learned professions.

It therefore makes sense in our supply-demand system that they can demand and get higher wages. There isn't really a value judgment in that equation; it's pure market factors. Same as with good UM recruits getting a six figure education at a major school, free, while many very bright students who outshine them in the classroom are shuttled off to lesser schools (one in East Lansing and one in Ohio come to mind...).

One thing that doesn't happen to lawyers, doctors, and other professionals very often is being bound to a system that is exempt from the antitrust laws, and having to face being cut, traded, etc. I don't know of a single law firm or medical PLLC that annually has a live-in camp where employees basically kill themselves year after year for a spot on the roster, and where forced or unforced retirement usually comes well before the age of 35.

There are pros and cons to life in pro football.

Many years ago I represented a former Detroit Lion against the Lions, who were denying him certain statutory benefits. The man had played on the championship teams of the 50s, and through the early 60s. He was a starter his whole career.

When I met him in the mid-70s, only a decade or so after leaving the Lions, and still a relatively young man, he was literally unable to walk without two canes. He couldn't climb stairs. His body had basically fallen apart from the regular beatings he'd taken to entertain us (well, my father's and my generation, anyway).

It was sad to see, and even sadder that in those days, the owners could get away with whatever they felt like, and the players of that era made little enough money that all of them needed off-season jobs.


October 21st, 2015 at 4:49 PM ^

The average NFL career is more than 4 years. Now they are all crying about thursday night games. According to a Wall Street Journal study of four recent broadcasts, and similar estimates by researchers, the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes. All that money , a relatively short season and a tremendous amount of money. Dont get me wrong I love this game but I'm tired of the whining. We the fans are the ones that should be whining. We pay to see these games at a cost which hurts most of us. They keep the clock running during out of bounds plays, which screws us the fans out of  a lot of extra football but saves those poor millionaires from some extra contact that may force them to play 16 actual minutes of football. I wish these players would spend a season in the National Hockey league getting brutalized with an 86 game season where the 60 minute game clock stops only when the action does. These players never seemed to cry in college . I'll tell you who has the right to whine, ME because I have to endure more commercials than I do ACTUAL FOOTBALL PLAYS.