11:40:34 am on
Friday 03 Dec 2021

Fun Should be Free
David Simmonds

There is something that fascinates us when it comes to the money paid athletes.  Why are they paid so much? Shouldn’t they be playing for the love of their sport? 

Top 37.

Playing is fun. Fun should be free. Besides, our parents always said that if sports heroes played for next to nothing, so too should their children. 

Thus, it was with considerable interest I opened a recent Forbes magazine survey of the Top 37 athletes of 2020, ranked by earnings. I don’t know how the editors arrived the number 37; maybe the research budget didn’t extend to listing forty or fifty.

With as much public disclosure as there already is, I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked at what I found. Yet, I was.  At the top of the list was that grizzled veteran, the Swiss tennis player Roger Federer. 

Federer made $6.3 million from playing tennis. It’s a tidy sum that would comfortably feed and house him and his family and entourage for the year.  By contrast, your average Fortune 500 chief executive earns $14.8 million; if you want to pick on anyone for being overpaid, pick on the corporate people.  

We’re not finished with Roger Federer.  On top of his tennis earnings, Federer earns a little extra from endorsements; $100 million extra, which is sixteen times his winnings.  No wonder he still plays tennis.

If he shows up at tournaments. If he plays the distinguished gentleman, a role he is very good at and may even reflect his genuine nature. If he makes a valiant effort on the court, the crowds go home happy thus keepng the engine of the endorsement machine stoked.

Endorsements are the athlete’s well that keeps drawing water. Tiger Woods is another example.  He took home just over $2 million in winnings last year, but $60 million in endorsements.

By contrast, 37th ranked Grady Jarrett, a football player, took home a far bigger sporting haul than Federer, $33 million, to be exact, but made only $5,000 in endorsements.  I wonder if his uncle owns a pizza parlour to which he lends his name. I bet Jarrett would be prepared to switch his no-field salary with Federer for Federer’s endorsements.  

 The fact is that if you reach iconic status in your sport, the sky is the limit for your endorsement potential. Still, the risks are great. You could get kneecapped by some indiscretion that turns your reputation to ashes and causes the companies whose product you are endorsing to drop you faster than you can say the word “toxic”, Tiger Woods being the exception that confirms the rule.

Injury could cut endorsement dollars.

Moreover, you could literally get kneecapped. Your career could be cut short. Who’s to criticize athletes for making endorsement hay while the sun shines on them?  

Are there some sports that bring in more earnings than others?  Good question. The largest number comes from the basketball world. 

Basketball plays hold 10-of-the-37 places; they and account for $526 million of aggregate earnings.  Next comes football, with seven players making a total of $334 million.  Soccer has fewer representatives, five, but they collectively pull in a second best $372 million.  

Tennis players hold five places, which includes Federer; they earned a total of $263 million in 2020.  Boxing and mixed martial arts, which I lumped together, although purists would no doubt vilify me for doing so, come in at $235 million.  Bringing up the rear are golf, with three members collectively bringing in $155 million, and auto racing with two members at $90 million.

 The target is obvious. If you want your children to be rich through sports, grow them to be basketball players. Make sure they eat Shreddies and grow to a commanding stature; ensure their arms, chests and necks are festooned with tattoos.

Basketball is a low overhead sport. No equipment beyond a few inflated balls and a court, thus, more money can go directly to the athletes. No large 53-person roster to dilute the income and to haul around the country like football teams must carry:  the NBA makes do with a 15-person squad.

Failing a basketball career, soccer and football are the next best sports in which to become a superstar.  If you’re a woman, go for tennis: the only two women on the list were Naomi Osaka, who earned $37 million, and Serena Williams at $36 million.

Where, you might well ask, are baseball and hockey sufficiently remunerative? Baseball outlawed chewing tobacco several years ago. You would think it has money left over to pay its players more, but perhaps fan interest is declining.

Baseball, compared to basketball, is too slow paced and takes too long. Hockey? Well maybe if hockey promoted itself as part of the mixed martial arts and boxing duo, it could rise in the standings. Maybe it’s because there are no giants anymore. 

Connor McDavid may be a great player, but he is no match for Wayne Gretzky in his prime.  Mind you, I don’t feel sorry for the stick sports.  The average annual salary in major league baseball is over $4 million and in the NHL, it is over $3 million. These sports pay chump change compared with the Top 37, but princely sums to those who earn an average wage.

Go for the endorsement dollars.

I’m sure the Top 37 are still playing for the love of the sport.  It helps they can also love the money that goes with it, especially from endorsements. Remember this next time you buy a product endorsed by an athlete.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose, not infrequently laced with savage humour. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Pete Hamill and Mike Barnacle; the late Jimmy Breslin and Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington, Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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