Numbers Don’t Lie: NFL Players Grossly Underpaid Despite Making Millions

Every NFL season, fans across the country curse players out for making too much money. The athletes will occasionally even sit out during contract disputes, refusing to participate until their demands are met. Millions of dollars are paid out to the top performers every year, each team balancing a group of superstars surrounded by a host of role players.

They’re all millionaires. Literally, the average NFL salary is $1.9 million. Rookie contracts at bare minimum are over $400,000 with a four year term. Make it all four years and you’re a millionaire.

A field of millionaires playing a game every Sunday for the enjoyment of the public is maybe the last place you’d look for a wage gap issue. How could there be a wage gap on a field full of millionaires? And would you really expect a quarterback to make a punter’s salary? It’s all relative, right?

Football Sunday is meant to escape the reality of the grinding work week. It’s not a place to bring up the microcosmic undertones of our society, one steeped in entertainment, waggish figures providing relief from the mundane. It has also proven to be a poor place for social injustice engagement. Well, poor or fantastic depending on who you ask.

We see the athletes on the field as our muse, cursing them for not catching a pass or making the right play, blaming their stone hands on spending the evenings counting their cash instead of practicing like they should have. The amusement on the field often takes away from the scour of greedy eyes posted behind glass in the upper deck, their buttocks gently resting on a seat unlike the rest surrounding them, outside in the elements, blue collared fans spending hard earned cash for their hard plastic chair at the table.

The athletes, while they sweat and toil and scramble their brains and break their legs, are the ones who get the public ire. Millionaires parading around in brightly colored matching outfits and yelling about winning, teamwork, and fans while they watch themselves dance on the Jumbotron makes for easy fodder for heckling.

But, back in our offices, factories, trucks, and stores we toil too. Our brains scrambled from customer complaints, legs and back hurt from standing on the concrete floor, bending but never breaking for our paychecks, just easing by enough for once a year to attend our favorite team stadium, buy a few beers and a hot dog, sit in the open, chilly air, and watch those millionaires for entertainment, for a small sense of hometown pride, and an escape from that factory floor.

The reason we connect with the athlete before the owner of the team, the coach, or the General Manager is that athlete is closest to what we are; employees. They’re the face of the franchise, not the GM. It’s a safer bet that you would recognize a Chipotle employee at the store nearest your house rather than the district manager, or especially the CEO.

In America, the wage gap continues to grow at a stunning rate. The rich, as the saying goes, keep getting richer. We opine about jobs being here in the US but never about the CEOs making well over 1,000 times the average worker. Chipotle CEO Steve Ells makes over 1500 times the average worker. Do we need more jobs or just higher paying ones? Could these CEOs cut down on their salaries and make everyone a little happier?

What about NFL owners? As more money continued to flow into the NFL, players wanted more. In the most recent collective bargaining agreement, they received more, too. Which seems fair, but in order to get it they had to give up on some of their freedoms. Roger Goodell is making sure to suspend people as often as possible, because he can, and because it proves that in order to get that money they had to suspend some power. It’s a reminder of who the boss is, who makes the rules, and who gets paid first.

The average NFL owner brings in around $39.4 million per season. That’s 1,973 times more than the average NFL employee. The number for the owners is after operating costs and taxes. That is, they profit around $39.4 million. The player’s numbers are before taxes, which depending on which state can take almost 50%.

Blame will forever be on the player and never the owner. But these numbers would show that players are likely underpaid, just like the rest of us, for their contracts. The NFL is a just a microcosm of the world in which we live; the rich get richer and undermine our freedoms at every turn, while we blame ourselves and blame each other for what we think has gone wrong.