Athlete Salaries: The Price of Gladiator

The early Greeks and Romans gave us the image of the heroic gladiator, a tall, muscular and physically fit man who towers in height above the average man; a man who, in as few as three moves, can break the neck of man and ferocious beast alike. They are the heroes of Virgil and Homer, and they are the men endowed with superhuman powers that mesmerized and entertained thousands during the Olympic Games of old (Garland, Robert, 2005, p. 24). They were the ancient day celebrity (Garland, Robert, 2005, p. 24). They evolved into the modern day athlete; boxers, football players, baseball players, and other athletes who stand as overpaid, overrated, modern day gladiators. Today’s “gladiators” are overrated, overpaid athletes who lack the heroic heart of the heroes Achilles or Odysseus, and men who won’t acknowledge their fan base without a financial incentive. Today’s athletes are takers, giving very little in return for their celebrity, and the industry salaries are not driven by talent as much as they are driven by advertising.

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Advertisers seem to have a greater influence on which athletes receive big salaries these days; if the athlete is popular, tall, handsome, fit and a reasonably good player, he can make lucrative deals with advertisers in anything from touting life insurance policies, to big name brand products like athletic gear and shoes. This transfers to the player’s sports’ club player’s contract, and the salaries are ridiculously high.

There are some, of course, who want to put a price on the bodily sacrifice that an athlete makes; arthritis, poorly healed broken bones, concussion that might have an adverse impact on the athlete’s life later in life, and so forth. However, when taking that into consideration, then the construction worker who operates a jack-hammer eight hours a day, if we measure his bodily worth on the scale of a professional athlete, is grossly underpaid. As are other laborers throughout the country if we, again, compare the physical risk, let alone injury, to that of a professional athlete.

In the film Jerry Maguire (1996), Tom Cruise’s character, Jerry Maguire, a sports agent, is sitting with an athlete when a young boy approaches and asks the athlete to sign his sports card. The athlete looks at the card, and then tells the youngster he cannot sign the card because it is not a particular brand name card – for which, of course, the athlete is contracted to represent, and presumably receives a handsome stipend for doing so. Today’s athletes are adjuncts of advertisers, and there is absolutely nothing aside their value as popular sports figures whom by virtue of their popularity – with youngsters whose sports cards they won’t sign – represent millions of dollars in advertising and product revenues. Sports is no longer about great Walter Payton talent, but is more about looking good, being popular, playing well – not necessarily great – and having a very, very savvy sports agent to score a big contract for the player.

In light of recent revelations about steroids in sports, especially baseball, even those once held out to be players of profound athletic ability have been revealed to be mere men on performance enhancing drugs. The 2004 Olympics held in Greece have been touted as.”..Year of the Dope Cheats (Downes, Steven, 2004, p. 83).” Ekaterina Thanou, women’s 100 metres final, was suspected of “doping” during the 2004 games to win the gold medal (Downes, 2004, p. 83). Recent investigations into major league baseball players’ use of steroids produced a startling list of players, present and past, who are alleged to have used performance enhancing drugs (, 2008, found online at, retrieved 28 January 2008). Baseball great Roger Clemens is amongst those alleged to have used performance enhancing drugs, and, now retired, Clemens has remained silent on the subject of his alleged steroid use (, 2008).

However, the alleged use has caused some concern by lawmakers on Capital Hill, and “Clemens lawyer has said he will appear before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a February 13 hearing on steroids in baseball (, 2008).”

With the sports industry’s focus on revenue, and athletes’ likewise focus on the same, the competition of human endurance – natural human endurance – has taken a back seat to financial greed. Today’s athletes do not deserve the high price tags that come with signing them to play for professional sports today. Their high incomes increase the cost of sales, the cost of products that bear their name, the cost of products that they help advertise; and they create false hope in young sports fans, and distract the attention of young adolescents who dream of one day being a big income earning athlete – an unrealistic goal.

In a Duke Law Journal article by researcher Sarah E. Gohl, the author writes about the unrealistic dreams of youngsters who have become less focused on the competition of sport, and more on the amenities associated with high incomes. She writes:

young boy sits in English class, staring out the window at the empty basketball court on the playground. He wonders why he has to learn that “ball” is a noun and that “round” is an adjective. He daydreams about the day when he is no longer forced to sit in class, the day when he is a college basketball player who calls his own shots and does not have to study because he is “going pro” someday. Why would he need to go to school when he will be making millions of dollars and having thousands of fans scream for him at every game?

Next to the young boy sits a young girl. She, too, is gazing out of the window at the empty basketball court on the playground. She also dreams of being a college basketball player who is “going pro” someday. She does not wonder why she has to learn that “ball” is a noun and that “round” is an adjective, because she understands that her basketball skills will only take her to a certain level in her life. An education will enable her to go beyond the limits of the basketball court.

Years later, these two childhood classmates both attend college on basketball scholarships. They are student-athletes and are quite successful athletically, but they both find it difficult to balance the demands of athletics and academics. They discover that there are times when they feel like they are back in that English class, trying to determine which words are nouns and which are adjectives. The lesson is not as easy as “round ball” because the words they are examining are “student” and “athlete,” which are hyphenated to make “student-athlete.” Or is it “athlete-student?” Which is the noun and which one is the adjective? Are they both nouns? Are they both adjectives? Is the term “student-athlete” an oxymoron? (Ghol, 2001, p. 1123).”

Society should pay close attention to what is going on in sports today. The high price tag of major athletes are but a smoke screen for a much deeper and darker malaise that is taking place in the industry today. The high price tags convey the sense that so long as the industry is making a lot of money (MLB reports professional baseball netted 52 billion dollars in 2006), then all is well. Things are, in fact, far from well, and professional athlete salaries are overpaid, and, today, the athletes themselves are overrated.

Works Cited

Crowe, Cameron (dir), Jerry Maguire (Motion Picture) (2006), Sony Pictures Entertainment/Tristar Picture, USA.


Gohl, Sarah E. “A Lesson in English and Gender: Title IX and the Male Student-Athlete.” Duke Law Journal 50.4 (2001): 1123. Questia. 28 Jan. 2008

Payton, Walter, Football Hall of Fame, found online at, retrieved 28 January 2008.

THE OLYMPICS 2004: DRUGS ACROPOLIS NOW! 2004 Is Year of the Dope Cheats.” Sunday Mirror (London, England): 83. Questia. 28 Jan. 2008

Athlete Incomes

Pro-Football Hall of Fame: Payton, Walter (1954-1999) played for the Chicago Bears football franchise his entire pro-football career. A Football Hall of Famer, Payton was a 1st round draft choice in 1975, who played with the Bears from 1975-1987, scoring 110 touch downs rushing, 492 receptions for 4,538 yards; 21,803 combined net yards, 125 touchdowns; all pro-seven times. Found online at, retrieved 28 January 2008.