In sports competitions, athletes try to outdo each other on speed, physical strength, endurance, and wit. Individuals with outstanding combinations of these attributes succeed in sports and become the big names that fans adore even long after they are gone from our screens. The life of a top athlete can be summarized in three stages: it starts with sampling years, then come specialization and investment times and after them a maintenance period (Stambulova & Ryba, 2013). They are most effective and competitive; their contribution is indisputable in their sport and their teams benefit from them when they are in their 20’s and 30’s (Allen & Hopkins, 2015). Their play peaks at this time in most cases with a few exemptions. Taking a pay cut means having ones pay reduced which may occur either willingly or out of compulsion. When athletes are obliged to take pay cuts, it means they are put in a morally or legally disadvantaged position where they are compelled or made to feel indebted by having their pay reduced. The conflict with pay cuts on aged athletes has grown because while in the past some of them would take less pay willingly, others were forced to take pay cuts if they wanted to remain with their teams while there also were those who demanded more money from their clubs. This has created a presumably unfair situation as it is often believed that as athletes get older and their on-court performance decreases, they are to be paid less than when they performed at their best.
Athletes have been taking pay cuts for various reasons for a long time. Over the last decade, the issue has become very popular with star athletes such as Kobe Bryant making remarks on the subject that stirred mixed feelings. The issue affects the market, fans, athletes themselves, and the franchises paying them. These divergent opinions on the subject have become a big challenge to arriving at a conclusion on the issue which is slowly creating rifts between and within the athletic community. Some argue that the athletes should be obligated to take the pay cuts while on the other hand others maintain that they should not. Old athletes should supposedly get less pay because as they age, their productivity to the team is not so significant. Besides, the money saved in the process helps the franchisers sign contracts with younger players who lay the foundation for the teams’ future. This way the veterans will leave their teams in a better condition than they found them, by so doing also promoting professionalism, self-dignity, and the overall fair play where individuals are rewarded proportionally to their contribution.
Arguments against Pay Cuts
Various reasons have been cited against obligating aged athletes to take pay cuts. First is the image and reputation of the legend. Those that argue against the pay cuts say that for a legendary athlete who has had a shining career all their life taking less pay only because they are not young anymore is disrespectful and can be translated as an insult. It tarnishes the image of the hero who gave their best in the due time and whose name was at a certain point synonymous with their sport. They claim that receiving less money would demotivate other ambitious and upcoming athletes who look up to them because the money that comes with the effort is one of their biggest driving forces in the industry. Furthermore, it is believed that a big name that would be repeated throughout time could be easily be made ordinary by a pay cut.
In addition, these players deserve it. They reasonably argue that although many athletes rise, only very few get that far. These are the few who have worked hard all through their sporting career with discipline and consistency that enabled them to win championships along the way. This, added to the injuries and risks they take in the course of their short careers, has earned them the right and made worthy to be overpaid in old age. This builds on the core morals of our society that hard work pays and also encourages talent development. It would be wrong that after they put in all that time and effort, they are obliged to take pay cuts that could put them at the same levels as their colleagues who did not work as hard.
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Thirdly, these players bring other benefits to a franchise and to the sport in general. These include ticket sales and TV deals because of their huge fan base. They also attract enormous sponsorships. Let us take an example of Kobe Bryant, a legend in basketball. During his last season in Los Angeles Lakers in 2016, he did not demonstrate the star level game and was widely criticized for this. However, no player has ever added so much value to a franchise like Kobe Bryant did for the Lakers. He is credited with a whopping $600 million boom in the value of his club (Aldridge, 2014). To obligate him to take a pay cut based on his underperformance as a player would have been a very narrow and shallow view of things, to say the least. He, however, took a pay cut in 2016 on his deal of $48 million. Lastly, it is argued that with most of these players who have come this far you get what you pay for. A typical example is the case of the Lakers mentioned above. The benefit and value of Kobe Bryant were proportional if not superior to the pay he was getting.
Arguments for Pay Cuts
On the other hand, athletes mostly rely on talent and so do individuals successful in all other careers. The Expectancy theory holds that the reward one gets from his work should be proportional to the effort and time invested. This fact is biblically supported by the words of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (2 Thes. 3:10 King James Version): “…this we commanded that any man who do not work, neither should he eat…”. Some careers, such as healthcare professions, require intellectual investment and a lot of time. Based on athletic standards, one could argue that the reward that sport stars get is not proportional and that most other professionals are underpaid. It is on such foundations that most of us will declare that professional athletes are being overpaid and that they should actually be obligated to take the pay cuts, especially when older and less effective (Kent, 2016).
First is their worth. Different athletes are paid differently because of the value they bring in the game. Athletes become worth big money by employing effort which translates into high productivity in the sport and big rewards. As they age, their competitiveness in the sports decreases, they become injury prone, miss many games and their value generally decreases. They should therefore be paid what they deserve, which is much less than what it was in their prime time. This is because the franchisers that pay them are team members who have to win games as a primary objective (Scaletta, 2015). An example is Ryan Howard a 37-year-old baseball player signed by the Phillies in 2011 on a $125 million contract extension. This was later termed as one of the worst contracts ever signed. For the next 3 seasons after his signing, Howard played so awfully that the Phillies benched him and even wanted to cut him, a move that the general manager denied as it could cost them the other $70 million. The Phillies were at their worst for five seasons and some attribute it to Howard’s presence. He for sure should have been obligated to take a pay cut.
A further argument is the issue of professionalism. As pointed out in Kent (2016) , in a society where people are struggling with repaying student loans and finding employment making mortgage payments, it becomes frustrating to read about an athlete who has been earning huge amounts of money regardless of their depreciating productivity and absence from their duty. They still get paid the same amount of money which is sometimes more than what the average American householder makes in a decade. Let us take an example of Joe Johnson. He was at one time one of the top 5 shooters in NBA. He, however, was not worth the 6-year contract with the Hawks of $120 million in 2010 when he averaged meager 14.7 points per game for the entire season. If he had set a good example by taking a pay cut soon enough, as stated in Titus (2:7 King James Version) “… in everything, set them an example by doing. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness…”, he would have saved his club a lot of money. Further, when a player in a team is overpaid because he is a legend, it stirs resentment in their teams.
The third reason for the pay cuts is the need to balance between the promising youth which lays the foundation for the future in their sport and the old age output. Clubs need to bring in new top quality players. This was one of the functions in Sir Alex Ferguson’s formula for building a successful team (Elberse, 2013). He kept signing contracts with new young players and giving them time and environment that could enable them to succeed while the old players were sold. This was one of the techniques he employed to become one of the greatest football coaches of all times. By promoting such rising stars, the quality of the game supplemented with new talents also rises. It becomes very hard to do that when all the money is tied up in the salary of an aging legend who does not have the same productivity as the new gifted player would have. By taking pay cuts, older players help their clubs save money and invest it in the future.
Another reason is the moral obligation to leave a place better than you found it. In his last seasons at the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant signed a $48.5 million contract. At this point in the season, the Lakers were expecting and really needed an improvement of their roster, but with this contract it was unreal as Bryant occupied a third of the team’s capacity and the addition of a player was only possible in the next season. This was not the only challenge that came with the deal. The team’s flexibility was restrained and pursuing a top class free agent was going to be a challenge which they were not able to take that season. This deal had come as an obligation to the management, to ensure that Bryant retired a Laker. He had an injury during the signing and had not shown a $48.5 million on-court performance in the previous season. He was the most highly-paid NBA player but it could be argued that he did not actually need that last $48.5 million as his performance at the time was not worth that much. If he had taken a pay cut at that moment, he could have left the team in a much better condition. It was in his power to do that since he was retiring with the over $250 million salary that the franchise had paid him by that time and which made him a very rich man.
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In sports the most important thing for an athlete is their performance. Being the best you can be to your team and building chemistry with your teammates is paramount. Being paid the most, however, does not make you the greatest player. The passion for the sport and loyalty to your team should always come first.
There were many instances where top athletes signed very expensive contracts but due to lack of an equally good team around them, they did not win any championships. Among such examples is Charles Barkley, one of the best players in NBA. He played for 16 years in the league and had some of the best stats but no championship to his name. Barkley retired having earned $30 million from NBA and with nothing else to show for it. This is because he did not have the teammates good enough to accompany him.
In 2010, Dwayne Wade took a pay cut of $18 million that enabled the Heats to sign a contract with LeBron James and Chris Bosh and form the ‘big three’ trio that was hoped to help win the league championship. This was done after the request by his teammates and eventually increased the team’s capacity, in addition to the ability to re-sign the contract with Udonis Haslem. The similar moves would later also cost Bosh and James millions of dollars but this would never stand between them and the love for the sport. The trio, as well as the players had had sacrificed their income for, went ahead to win the consecutive championships in 2012 and 2013 in the some of the most spectacular performances ever witnessed in basketball. They have also revolutionized the NBA game in many terms and gave fans lifetime memories, all because one man was once selfless enough to take a pay cut for the sake of the sport. In 2014, Dwayne walked away from a 2 year $41 million deal in the same club to make space and ensure the re-signing of LeBron in order to strengthen the team (Chiang, 2016). In his career with the Heats, Dwayne has never made the most highly-paid player in the team.
Over the years, athletes have been known to make huge unforgettable sacrifices due to their loyalty to the sport and their teams as well. A day after Bret Favre had lost his father, the Green Bay Packers were facing the Oakland Raiders. He played that game, helping his team win it not only because of the motivation from his sacrifice but also because on that day he played the best football game of his career for his late father. In another instance, on November 2002, in a game against the Akron Zips, Byron Leftwich fractured his tibia in the first quarter. He was rushed to the hospital for an X-ray was not supposed to be back. Due to his loyalty to the team, however, he was not going to let them lose. He came back in the second quarter and played on one leg for the rest of the game and eventually helped them win (Markovich, 2016).
If a pay cut is what it is necessary to take to make their team have a better season, sign a contract with a new talented player, attract a star free agent, make an investment for its future, or leave a franchise better than they found it, then a true athlete will take it without hesitation and will even feel obligated to do it. If an athlete does not contribute as much to the sport as they used to because they have grown old, he or she who appreciates the importance of hard work and the joy of getting a pay that is proportional to their effort should feel it their duty to take what they are worth. To my mind, athletes deserve pay cuts because in the process of ageing their productivity to the team decreases. Thus, the money recovered though such measures could assist the franchisers buy younger and more energetic players to lay the foundation for the teams’ future and let the legends leave their respective teams in a better condition than they were before them. This is regarded as a true sign of professionalism, devotion, and personal dignity to be rewarded proportionally to the productivity demonstrated.