Black athletes face double standard in getting paid


Brian Keyes

66 million for three years. That’s how much The Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco, the highest paid player in the NFL for 2016-2017, signed for earlier this year. Odds are people who don’t follow the NFL closely didn’t know that, probably because no one made that big of a deal about it. Flacco is an above-average quarterback, although he’s never been to the pro-bowl, and The Ravens had to pay to keep him on their team.

$153 million for five years. That’s how much The Memphis Grizzlies’ point guard Mike Conley, briefly the highest paid player in the NBA, signed for earlier this year. (He was usurped by LeBron James later on in the summer.) Like Flacco, Conley is an above-average point guard, although he’s never made the All-Star team or All-NBA Team, and The Grizzlies had to pay to keep him. Unlike Flacco though, quite a few people made a big deal about his salary. The main difference between the two athletes? Flacco is white; Conley is Black.

Most of the criticism came from Conley’s lack of awards as well as his subpar stats for a superstar. But this happens every couple of years. Even when the highest paid player was Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, or Kobe Bryant, there was still an outcry over every contract signed. The idea seemed to be that no professional athlete should be earning $30 million a year, even if they did win six titles, as Jordan did. The criticism wasn’t specifically racist, but still didn’t exactly sit right.

This idea might hold up if it weren’t for the fact that these complaints only ever seem to be levied against Black athletes. As mentioned, the highest paid player in the NFL is white. The MLB’s highest player, Clayton Kershaw, is also white. So is, unsurprisingly, the highest paid NHL player, Sidney Crosby.

It seems that people just are uncomfortable with Black athletes earning more money than their white counterparts. The most recent NBA lockout over the collective bargaining agreement back in 2011 showed just as much. Players always argue for a higher share of the Basketball Related Income (BRI) the league makes every year, and every time the public outcry is that athletes earn enough already. There seems to be an impression among casual fans that if players earned less money, everything at games, from tickets to food, would be more affordable.

This doesn’t make sense for reasons that should be obvious. If players get paid less, prices don’t go down. The business has no reason to lower prices, because the demand is the same. All that changes is that team owners make more money. And people seem to realize this, by the lack of outcry over work stoppages in baseball or hockey.

To try and write off a Black group of athletes as not worthy of the money they make while remaining indifferent when white athletes earn as much or more is textbook discrimination. It’s the kind of thinking that still stops poor, mostly black athletes competing in football and basketball for NCAA schools from earning compensation, making millions of dollars for an organization that refuses to pay its players. It’s also the kind of thinking used by corporations to exploit another group, and the kind used by racists to keep a group oppressed. So be aware of the double standard the next time you see someone complain about how much football or basketball players make. Because no one ever complains about how Clayton Kershaw gets paid over $30 million a year to throw a small ball really, really fast.