By Hannah Borenstein
When Dwayne Wade and Ray Allen brought up the possibility of getting paid to play in the Olympics, they inadvertently sparked a raging debate throughout sports blogs and news outlets concerning the question of whether or not Olympic athletes should be paid in more than just national pride.
But the general buzz surrounding their opinions focused mainly on the basketball players and their sport, rather than the concept as a whole. The question: “Should Olympic athletes get paid?” turned into: “Should Olympic athlete basketball players be paid?” That transformation obfuscates the legitimacy of the first inquiry and some of Wade’s and Allen’s base concerns.
Because so many people were quick to criticize the NBA superstars who often net upwards of 5 million dollars per year, the discussion shifted from the core issue – the question of whether the other Olympic athletes should be paid.
Allen touched upon the heart of the matter when he said, “You talk about the patriotism that guys should want to play for, but you [need to] find a way to entice the guys.”
Before endorsements and playoff winning bonuses, Ray Allen makes 10 million dollars a year. The average track and field athlete? About the starting salary of a teacher: $43,000.
If sprinters, who make significantly less than basketball players even at the highest level of play, don’t need monetary incentive to participate in the Olympics, do multimillionaire NBA players?
Probably not. Whereas runners, swimmers, bobsledders, speed skaters, curlers, etc., generate training methods to peak at the Olympics, professional basketball players have the luxury of competing each year in a setting (the NBA) that affords them more stability due to the popularity of the sport.
Questions about other athletes receiving compensation do not seem nearly as far-fetched or offensive, but paying all other athletes besides the NBA players does not seem to be a feasible solution.
So would a modest, equal salary for every Olympic athlete be such a bad thing? Perhaps even humbling to the basketball players? Maybe a chance to recognize less-commercial athletes?
I feel obliged to acknowledge the issue of patriotism, the opinion that athletes shouldn’t get paid because representing one’s country is “more than enough,” but it’s almost tempting to neglect the argument all together. Everything we participate in as citizens (and we are active participants in the Olympics as viewers) contributes to the central tenets of capitalism. We’re consumers when we watch commercials between events and buy t-shirts that say: “Phelps dived for my swims.” Wade’s problem, that companies and networks are profiting off of the athletes, corrupts the idea of athletes participating out of pure patriotism.
I am not supporting the direct suggestion from Wade and Allen that the basketball players should be paid. I, like most people, am under the firm impression that most major athletes make way more money than they know what to do with. Quite frankly, I am not even sure if it makes sense to have basketball in the Olympics at all.
But what I do credit the two men for is bringing up an issue (purposefully or not) in relation to the exploitation of athletes in the Olympics and the divide in perspective stemming from such an outrageously wide distribution of income.
People who have dramatically sided with either opposing dissidents or passionate supporters of Wade and Allen should be reminded that Olympic basketball players being paid and all Olympic athletes being paid cannot be seen as mutually exclusive concepts.
Do I think basketball players should get even more money? Not necessarily. But I also am willing to consider that Olympic athletes in general probably should be paid, and NBA players – whether we like it or not – are a part of that community.