The Sports Sermon: Can’t hide the dollar signs

October 16, 2014

Finances are private. Everyone knows that.

We learn this reality from a young age. We teach kids that asking for such information is not polite, and they, in turn, carry this attitude with them, passing it on. In American society, we’ve made the collective decision to keep personal financial information a secret in almost all areas, but one.

The one exception to the rule is that if you have something to brag about in terms of income, you don’t need to keep it a secret. Rolling in the Benjamins isn’t exactly something to be ashamed of. Those who are fortunate enough to be able to afford small islands and golden toilet paper probably aren’t as worried about keeping such information on the down low.

Who rakes it in like they’re printing it themselves? Celebrities do. Despite the taboo nature of sharing personal finances, some of the mind-boggling sums involved when it comes to celebrities cause American citizens to be more than okay with breaking their strict rules concerning financial discussion. We love ogling all the articles concerning how much money the Gates family is worth, or how much money Tom Cruise pulled in for playing himself in his latest remake of the exact same movie he’s been in for years.

Nowhere is that truer than in sports. Take a look at any major purveyor of sports news during contract season and you’ll find all sorts of information concerning athlete earnings that in any other context would remain a secret. From new contract salary figures for stars like Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James to how much players like footballer Kaká or pitcher Max Scherzer turned down, it’s all there.

Thanks to Forbes, I can tell you that so far in 2014, LeBron James has made $19.3 million dollars thanks to his salary and playoff bonuses, and that the Cleveland star has also raked in an additional $53 million from endorsements. Thanks to Celebrity Net Worth, I can tell you that before his retirement, Derek Jeter was earning approximately $35 million from salary and endorsements. However, I couldn’t tell you how much my government professor is earning, but then again he probably doesn’t want to tell you either.

The frenzy surrounding our favorite sporting leagues provides the perfect setting in which this sort of mutually satisfactory violation of privacy can occur. Sports are status-oriented. They are competitions, after all. Nothing determines status in our country like the size of your paycheck. Leaking the ridiculous size of your bank account isn’t going to hurt you in that realm, unless someone is making significantly more. On top of that, most of today’s prominent athletes like to tailor their lives to the rags-to-riches story that everyone knows and loves. Starting from the bottom and now earning millions is an affirmation for themselves, as well as a means of measuring worth.

The question remains: is this right? Is it okay for us to ignore the societal rules we let govern the rest of us simply because these people have nothing to be monetarily ashamed of? Publicizing these numbers certainly leads to a lot of negative connotations about sports. It’s common for those opposed to the behemoth sporting industry to point to monstrous salaries and endorsement fees as reasons to write sports off as nothing but a disgusting money-driven enterprise. It’s common for people to look down on the lavish lifestyles of these superstars, despite the fact that these millionaires are simply a supply to capitalist demand.

Are these people wrong in being outraged at the fact that the net worth of some of the most profitable athletes in the world is the same as the GDP of small sovereign nations? In my opinion, probably not. However, they condemn this form of business based off of which salaries are heavily publicized, forgetting that for every mega-millionaire there are nine more guys trying to prepare for the looming day when their bodies are no longer able to make them money.

Do super-profitable athletes do a lot of work to hide their finances? Not even a little bit. Would it save sports a good deal of trouble and bad press if they did? Yes, it would. At the end of the day it’s up to us to decide if we’re going to let dollar bills dictate how we behave toward a certain group of people.


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