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The 'greedy' professional athlete

Seattle Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman is very pleased about a potential contract extension.
Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman has become one of the most recognizable NFL defensive players today. Although his emergence as a great cornerback and playmaker has led to his meteoric rise in the football community, Sherman gained national attention for his postgame comments following the Seahawks' NFC Championship win over the San Francisco 49ers but the overexposure of that interview is just one part of Sherman's ability to publicly speak his mind. As a former 5th round NFL Draft pick on his rookie contract, Sherman's on the field play has long exceeded his salary. He is apparently close to working out a new contract with the Seahawks that will likely pay him among the top defensive players in football and he is voicing what his new contract means.

In anticipation of a lucrative new contract, Richard Sherman told the NFL Network that, "It's all about respect in this game, and the only way people show respect is the dollars." Many sports fans will hear about or read his comments and make remarks about the greed of today's professional athletes. Sherman is scheduled to make 1.4 million dollars during this upcoming 2014 season, which is vastly underpaid to his counterparts who have accomplished as much individually as he has. But his 1.4 million dollar salary still stands way above the average U.S. personal income in 2012 of nearly $43,000. Most sports fans near that income level simply cannot relate to today's professional athletes in terms of money when many pro athletes of the four major pro sports (NBA, NFL, Major League Baseball, NHL) make seven and eight figure salaries yearly.

There is no greater chance for sports fans to criticize or espouse their disdain for professional athletes' perceived greed or selfishness than during an athlete's contract negotiation with a professional sports organization. Contract negotiations over millions of dollars rarely draw sympathy from sports fans, particularly in today's economy, and when many sports fans tie pro athlete's salaries with rising ticket prices at professional stadiums. Unfortunately, many sports fans forget that professional athletes attempting to maximize their salaries and dollars from sports organizations, and specifically billionaire sports owners, do not have any effect on how much a fan's season's tickets cost. Teams set ticket prices not on how much they pay a superstar athlete like a LeBron James or Peyton Manning but on how much the public is willing to pay to see those superstar athletes. Teams generally don't lower ticket prices after losing a great player to free agency so sports fans should realize that the athletes themselves aren't affecting their ability to see professional sports live because they are demanding $12 million and the team is offering $10 million.

Shortly after Detroit Tigers star pitcher Max Scherzer rejected a lucrative multi-year extension offer from the Detroit Tigers worth a reported $144 million before the beginning of the 2014 regular season, numerous Tigers fans displayed their displeasure with Scherzer's decision to reject a multi-year deal and play under a one year deal this year. Instead of understanding that Max Scherzer, himself, wants to maximize his dollars by possibly having another productive year and hitting free agency, some Tigers fans wanted to hit Scherzer with the "greedy, selfish" athlete label. This is despite Scherzer taking a chance by turning down a possible guaranteed $144 million by playing out this season and getting less money than that by having a bad season of production or even getting injured. As a recent Sports Illustrated cover says, Max Scherzer is making a big 'bet' on himself.

Professional athletes make and deserve what they earn. Of course, careers and jobs like that of teacher, firefighter, and doctor are more important to American society but professional athletes make much more because as ESPN journalist Peter Keating notes, "athletes, like all workers, are worth what the free market demands and what their bosses are willing to pay." In the same 2012 ESPN article, Keating makes the point that superstar athletes are actually underpaid considering the value they bring to a professional sports franchise, many of whom are worth several hundred million dollars. It is critical that sports fans remember that professional athletes attempting to maximize their salaries and money is not unlike that of your friends, family, and peers, even if they are trying to get millions and millions of dollars.

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