Generally speaking, the public doesn’t respond well to athletes demanding more money for anything. There are obvious exceptions in the cases of underdogs who everyone knows don’t get paid all that much to begin with; however, for the most part, any time an athlete -- particularly someone who is making more money than 95 percent of the other players in his sport -- asks for more money, his request will be met unfavorably.
This week, Boston Celtics shooting guard Ray Allen created something of a stir when he said that NBA players who participate in the Olympics should be compensated for their troubles. The stir was noticeable, but not massive because of Allen’s lukewarm popularity amongst non-hardcore hoops fans. But then Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade offered his two cents on the matter and, predictably, the issue exploded.
"It's a lot of things you do for the Olympics -- a lot of jerseys you sell," Wade said on Wednesday afternoon (via ESPN). "We play the whole summer. I do think guys should be compensated. Just like I think college players should be compensated as well. Unfortunately, it's not there. But I think it should be something, you know, there for it.”
It seemed as though Wade was trying to make the point that it wasn’t so much about the money that players would get, but rather the fact that they would walk away with something for their hard work.
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"The biggest thing is now you get no rest," Wade continued. "So you go to the end of the season, [Team USA] training camp is two weeks later. You're giving up a lot to do it. It's something you want to do. But it's taxing on your body. You're not playing for the dollar. But it would be nice if you would get compensated."
After Wade made his initial statements, a lot of people got understandably irritated. Perhaps sensing what a commotion his take caused, Wade later took to Twitter and attempted to clarify his position.
I responded 2 a specific question asked by a reporter on my thoughts of Olympians being paid. I never asked to be paid to PLAY.
What I was referencing is there is a lot of Olympic business that happens that athletes are not a part of - and it’s a complicated issue
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BUT my love 4 the game & pride 4 USA motivates me more than any $$$ amount. I repped my country in 2004 when we won the bronze medal and...
...stood proudly to receive our gold medal in 2008 in Beijing. It’s always been an honor for me to be a part of the USA Olympic family...
...and I’m looking forward to doing it again in London this summer.
While Wade is unquestionably one of the most likeable players currently in the Association, he clearly wound up on the wrong side of this argument. Both from a PR standpoint and just a common sense angle, he is completely and totally wrong on all counts.
First, on the PR side: people view the Olympics as one of the few things that unites us as a nation. In this day and age of athletes publicly demanding massive contracts and basically doing whatever they want to better themselves and their bottom lines (particularly in basketball), the Olympics was a safe zone of sorts where that didn’t happen. It was a place where everyone put their selfishness and their me-first attitudes aside and did something for the greater good of the country. Whether that’s the right or wrong way of looking at things (why shouldn’t athletes be me-first and demand massive contracts from their employers?) is debatable, but it is the way people look at this situation. "Tainting" that safe zone by demanding money was terrible for Wade's image.
Beyond that, though, on this core issue, Wade is wrong in the way that he is viewing the situation. There is no way to fairly compensate him or any of the other stars who are participating in the Olympics at this point in time. Wade stands to make roughly $15.5 million this year. According to Forbes, he also makes more than $10 million annually off endorsements. There is absolutely no way for anyone involved with Team USA to pay him anything even remotely approaching that sort of money for his time this summer. Even if you broke it down proportionally, there would still be no way to pay everyone fairly.
This is not the same thing as wanting college players to be fairly compensated for their troubles. College players aren’t allowed to profit at all from their time in school. Plenty of folks would be perfectly fine if the NCAA continued to collect all licensing and merchandise fees without sharing them with the players, but allowed players to go out and get their own individual endorsement deals. NBA players, like Wade, who take part in the Olympics already do that.
The international reach that Wade has thanks to his Olympic participation is already factored into his endorsement deals. Via Forbes:
The Nike brand derives almost 60% of its revenue from outside North America. Nike regularly sends its top players to Asia and Europe during the NBA off-season to store openings or basketball clinics. It is about expanding the footprint of the Nike brand. The Olympics are another form of that.
The Olympics can directly spur new endorsement deals as well. Bryant was the most popular non-Chinese athlete at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. He capitalized on that by inking a deal with Chinese media company Sina in 2009 for his own site on the news portal. Smart, owned by Daimler AG, later signed the six-foot-six Bryant to promote the microcars in China.
Would it be great, in theory, if everyone could get paid for their participation in the Olympics? Sure. Players devote time and risk injury when they represent their country at the event, so paying them -- if it were possible -- would be wonderful. But seeing as it’s not currently possible, Wade should have bit his tongue on the matter. There was no way to be on the winning side of this issue, and someone as savvy as we all know the Miami Heat leader is should have known better.
This mess will blow over for No. 3, but it’ll definitely linger in a lot of athletes’ minds. This is a classic example of choosing your battles. Wade chose the wrong one in this case.