The Contract Gap

NFL players are significantly underpaid and deserve more lucrative contracts

Zach Baumgarten, Staff Writer

Throughout the 21st first century, the National Football League has been the largest American professional sports organization, yet its players are paid significantly less than players in the National Basketball Association and other professional sports organizations. Just last year, the NFL is estimated to have brought in $14 billion, a revenue sum much higher than the NBA’s $5.2 billion. This year Otto Porter, an emerging fourth year player from the Washington Wizards, will have a higher annual salary than the two-time most valuable player award winner Aaron Rodgers, Mr. Discount Double Check himself. This is not a quirky statistic, but rather a common theme present in current NFL and NBA contracts. In 2016, the average NFL salary was $2.1 million per year, whereas the average NBA salary was $6.2 million a year.

The most common explanation for the inferior NFL contracts is football teams’ larger rosters. The NFL teams  each carry a 53 man roster  compared to the 14 man NBA roster. The common theory behind this is that NFL owners have more players to pay, and therefore the pie will be cut into smaller pieces. However, the NFL has 32 teams, a number similar to the NBA’s 30. With a similar number of teams, both the NFL and NBA have similar numbers of star players. Both of the league’s revenues are highly contributed to by their following and the popularity generated from star players. These players in many ways define each individual league, as their athletic ability creates the public demand for content, which then enables both leagues to bring in tremendous amounts of money. The fact of the matter is that without star players, both the NFL and NBA would have similar amounts of public relevance as semi professional leagues. Given  the tremendous size of the NFL’s revenue, it does not make sense why NFL stars are given significantly less lucrative contracts compared to their NBA counterparts.

In addition, the individual performances of NFL players has created an enormously profitable market in fantasy football. According to American Express, 74.7 million Americans will play fantasy football this year. Fantasy football has added a new motive to watch NFL games and has created a huge viewer audience for the NFL. A 2011 study done by the Journal of Sport Administration and Supervision, found that ESPN Monday Night Football had more views during games that included players who started on more than 50% of fantasy football teams. Star players generate the most excitement in playing fantasy football, and owners are most intrigued by the performances of star players. In many ways, the star players in the NFL have generated the growing interest in fantasy football which directly correlates to NFL viewership and therefore revenue.

Another explanation as to why NFL players are paid less compared to their NBA counterparts is the higher chance of injury and shorter careers.Why would NFL owners offer large guaranteed contracts if players are likely to get hurt?

NFL superstar Odell Beckham Jr is one of the many players advocating for more money and is a great representation of the value a star player brings to the NFL. Throughout his three year career, Beckham has been a major revenue asset to the league; he recently led the league in jersey sales and has almost nine million instagram followers. Beckham has voiced his concerns over the constant threat of injury in the NFL and believes that players are undercompensated for the injury threats they face on the field.

“It’s not even a full-contact sport, I would call it a full-collision sport,” Beckham said. “You have people running who can run 20 miles per hour and they’re running downhill to hit you, and you’re running 18 miles per hour. That’s a car wreck. The careers are shorter. There’s injuries that you have after you leave the game, brain injuries, whatever it is, nerve injuries. And it’s just something that I feel as if there’s no way someone who — even if they did their three or four years in the league — should have to worry about money for the rest of their lives,” he finished.

Beckham’s concern over injuries is not an unworthy claim. In fact, the NFL has had exceptional amounts of  instances of severe post career medical issues that have resulted not only in high medical bills but have also affected a player’s ability to live a comfortable, healthy lifestyle. A 2017 study done by the Medical Journal of JAMA found that Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, known as CTE, was found in 99% of deceased NFL players’ brains that were donated to scientific research. The symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism, and, eventually, progressive dementia. In addition, many NFL players with CTE have committed suicide or have experienced symptoms that dramatically affect their ability to  live a functional life after football.

NFL players deserve to be compensated for playing a game that has such a dramatic chance of serious injury. After all, NFL players are more than dispensable business assets and deserve to be treated as such. The NFL has done little to support players suffering through dramatic post career injuries highlighted by brain damage such as CTE. Although it is possible for the NFL to fully reimburse players for long term injuries attained while playing, larger contracts would be a start.

At the end of the day, NFL players are the ones most responsible for the revenue generated by the NFL. Not only do they deserve to be paid more than NBA players for playing in a more profitable league, but also for the risk involved in playing such a dangerous sport.

Many NFL players suffer injuries especially to the head that require significant medical treatment. It only make sense that the league should compensate.