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Professional Athlete Salaries a Continuous Matter of Debate

Published: Friday, January 26, 2007

Updated: Saturday, August 9, 2008 23:08

With attendance records being broken every year in all sports and owners' pockets getting fatter, athletes with multimillion-dollar contracts are smiling on pay day. The question is, are they getting paid too much? 

"Athletes do not make too much money," said Gary Miles, who has been deputy sports editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer for five years.  "The owners have enough money and it's the market that they play in.  They [players] deserve what they get based on the economics."

In the 2004-05 season, the NBA's New York Knicks was worth an estimated $543 million under the current deal for the arena and without deduction for debt. The team made an estimated $181 million that year. NBA teams averaged a worth of $326 million and made revenue of $106 million.

Cheryl Clark, a junior biology major at North Carolina Central University, believes that athletes should not be paid high salaries.

"I don't know why athletes get paid so much," Clark said.  "I understand that the sports industry makes a lot of money, but how could you pay someone that amount of money when people like teachers make next to nothing?" 

Average salaries in all sports are at all-time highs.  The league with the highest average salary is the National Basketball Association.  Players in the NBA average a little more than $4 million with the highest-paid player being Shaquille O'Neal, who made $20 million in the 2005-2006 season. The minimum salary, as of the 2005-06 season, was $398,762 for rookies and a little more than $1.1 million for veterans with 10 plus years of experience, according to the NBA.

The most expensive contract in sports history was in Major League Baseball (MLB).  Alex Rodriguez, who plays for the New York Yankees, signed a 10-year $252 million contract in the winter of 2000, according to Associated Press.  The next highest-paid player is his teammate in New York, Derek Jeter, who also makes more $20 million a year.

"I never would have thought that someone would ever sign a contract like that over such a long time," Matt Madison, a sophomore mathematics major at The University of South Carolina said.  "I mean [Michael] Jordan made $15 to $18 million contracts in his later years, but they were one-year contracts."

Unlike the other three major North American leagues for football, basketball and hockey, the MLB has no salary cap on the amount of money it can spend on players.

While some people don't believe that players overall are overpaid, others believe that certain individuals make too much.

"A-Rod is overpaid," Madison said of Rodriguez. "He does not produce in the playoffs when it matters most, unlike Jeter who does and is worth every single penny."

Clark does not understand why teachers, who basically have the future of the country in their hands, make so little and athletes, who entertain the public for such a short period of time, make so much.

"It's crazy that the people who teach our future congressmen and doctors make such a little amount of money," Clark said.  "I just wish there was a way for teachers to get paid more."

While baseball players make an average of $2.9 million, the average pay for teachers in the United States was $46,597 during the 2003-04 school year. Salaries in South Carolina, which has some of the lowest paid teachers in the country, averaged $41,162, which ranked 28th in the country in the 2003-04 school year, according to the American Federation of Teachers. 

"I don't mind that athletes get paid so much," said Franklin Davis, a history teacher at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S.C.  "I enjoy what I do and don't do it for the money, even though it wouldn't hurt to make more."

The only sport that has a leash on its players' salaries is the National Football League.  The other three leagues offer guaranteed contracts, which means that whatever the amount is when a player signs his contract is the amount he gets.  In the NFL, the only thing guaranteed is the signing bonus, which helps teams if a player is injured or is not performing.

"I agree with the way the NFL conducts their contracts," Madison said. "If your players are not producing, you can cut them and not worry about the whole salary. The only thing I would change is a better system for players once they retire."

The one definite when it comes to athletes' salaries is that they will get a lot bigger way before they get smaller.

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