Maybe you’re a progressive and wish that NFL players tax rates were higher to fund safety net programs. Maybe you’re a staunch Trump supporter that’s disgusted that players kneel for the national anthem. Perhaps you’re a civil rights supporter who stands with the players in their efforts to achieve social justice for communities of color.
Regardless of where you stand, I believe one thing is clear in this latest Trump vs. NFL battle: the players don’t make enough for their efforts.
How the Heck Can I Say NFL Players Are Underpaid?
When I say this, I mean relative to what they should receive in a free and open marketplace. The NFL basically is a legal monopoly. The owners and the older players enforced a system a few year back that prevents rookies from earning barely anything when they come out of college.
Don’t believe me? Check out this salary structure for one of the top WR’s in the league: Odell Beckham Jr:
Perhaps the best offensive weapon in the league is earning about $3 million for the rest of this season. In 2018, he’ll get a big pay raise, and then in 2019 when he’s an unrestricted free agent, all bets are off. He will probably get rewarded with a monster contract.
However, what about Steph Curry’s $200 million deal? Odell Beckham Jr. (OBJ) won’t get anything close to that. Furthermore, if OBJ gets hurt, then the guarantees won’t be nearly as good.
Compare that to baseball, where guaranteed money is the norm.
The NFL Roulette: Produce at a Really High Level and Pray for One Good Contract
Players in today’s league basically earn anywhere from a few hundred thousand to a couple million for the first four to six years of their contracts. They hit age 26-28, and they’ve really got 1 shot at a big money contract.
It’s extremely rare for a player to go well beyond 30 in his career in such a physical sport. A big money contract is something most players don’t ever see.
The League Has a Legal Monopoly
The NFL has been running a farce for a long time to exempt itself from anti-trust laws. Basically they allow the players to have a union and the two parties come together to negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) every few years.
Here’s the problem though: leverage.
How much leverage does a small group of multi-billionaires have in negotiating with a group that has an average career length of 3 years and less than $1 million in earnings? The answer is that the owners hold the royal flush.
In past lockouts, the owners just sit back and wait. Even the NFL players making a lot of money run through it like crazy. Eventually enough of the players push the union to make a settlement and the owners get most of what they want.
Lessons for Negotiating Your Own Job
Compare the NFL players to other athletes. MLB shut down play for a whole year and they got a lot more of what they wanted. Major guarantees in pay, huge contracts, and more.
Even the NBA is showering money on players now that there’s more TV money to play with. There’s also much fewer players, which probably makes it easier to form a cohesive front against ownership.
Watching the NFL, negotiating is about leverage and being willing to walk away because your financial position enables you to. Most NFL players go broke a few years out of the league. They have little to no nest egg built up for life after football.
If you don’t get anything out of this, get this point: you need “screw you” money.
Only then will you be able to walk into your boss’s office and ask for better conditions, pay, hours, etc. If you don’t have much in savings, you are the mercy of your employer. Guess what? The employer knows that.
It’s why so few employers have to offer anything but 1%-3% raises each year.
How I Think NFL Inequality Relates to the Black Lives Matter Movement
I’m a skinny lily white guy talking about race, so let me check my privilege at the door before I say this. But seriously, NFL players deserve to be paid better than they are and anything less is taking advantage of them as men.
70% of players are African American, with many coming from homes in the bottom half of the income distribution. They weren’t lucky like me growing up with a granddad who read the Wall Street Journal everyday or a mom who helped me start my first savings account at 7 years old.
What’s frustrating about NFL owners is that they don’t care. They could do more proactively to improve their players’ financial situation by holding more of the paychecks back in the form of annuity income, or by funding access to financial advisors that the league pays for and sponsors, but they don’t because why would they?
They’re trying to squeeze every last ounce of gold out of a sport that we now know could causes neurological damage.
Next Time the NFL Shuts Down, I Know Who I’ll Be Rooting For
The city swapping of the past couple years has revealed just how greedy the owners of the NFL truly are. All sports owners want taxpayer funded stadiums to some degree, but America’s richest sports league should receive $0 in taxpayer funded help.
The next time the NFL could shut down might be in a couple years. I’m hoping players get serious this time and fight for their rights as players. I’ll be cheering for them.
The next time you experience dissatisfaction in your job, realize you need to cut back your spending drastically and get that pot of screw you money. You never know when you might need it.