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Pay-triotism: The American Way

Dwayne Wade, Ray Allen and compensation for Olympic basketball players.


“You talk about the patriotism that guys should want to play for, but you [need to] find a way to entice the guys. It’s not the easiest thing in the world if you play deep in the playoffs and then you get two, three weeks off… It’s fun, but your body does need a break.” – Ray Allen

“The biggest thing is now you get no rest, 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.” – Dwayne Wade

The comment made above by Ray Allen got a small amount of publicity. It was only when these sentiments were echoed by Dwayne Wade (of the lightning rod team known as the Miami Heat) that they morphed into a big news story. Wade and Allen’s words were very unpopular with fans – one poll on ESPN’s SportsNation had over 31,000 responses (as of Wednesday at midnight) and 84% of those people felt that NBA players should not be paid for playing in the Olympics. Comments on news stories covering this topic questioned his patriotism and his heart.

I’m fully aware of how unpopular the following argument is going to be, but I have to make it anyway: the condemnation of Wade and Allen is misguided and disingenuous. What is more American than asking for fair compensation for services rendered? For professional athletes, their bodies are their businesses. They have every right to protect their assets, or to at least be paid in order to put them at risk.

Do NBA players like Dwayne Wade and Ray Allen need more money? Of course not. But their previous wealth should have nothing to do with the question at hand. USA Basketball needs these stars much more than the players need the Olympics. As far as the players are concerned, their primary duty is to themselves, in order to maximize their earning potential during the fleeting window of opportunity when their athleticism grants them the chance to make money. Their second duty is to the NBA teams which employ them; those are the ones taking financial risks by guaranteeing the players large contracts.

The idea that these athletes ought to have a sense of overarching, all-encompassing patriotism is as antiquated as it is naïve. The “American Way” in business is to engage in rational, free-market exchange of goods and services. By playing in the Olympics and promoting the game internationally, American NBA players have spurned interest (and garnered bountiful new markets) in countries where it never existed before (China, Russia, Israel, Turkey, Greece, the former Yugoslavia, etc).

What would be so terrible about giving something back to the players who actually perform the work in generating all that revenue? There is a time and a place for self-sacrifice and service to one’s country, but it’s hard to fault players for looking at the Games from a business angle because that’s precisely what the Olympics is – business.

After the 1988 Games, the International Olympic Committee opened the door to professionals being eligible to participate. Since that time, professional sports have undergone a sonic boom in terms of popularity, exposure and revenue. If the Olympics were really about the selfless sacrifice of each country’s youth, participating at the highest levels of their chosen sports, then the Olympics would have never allowed itself to be ‘corrupted’ by professionals. But the people running the Olympics were businessmen, too, and realized the obvious – we’ll draw a lot more of an audience if the athletes are already famous.

This day became inevitable the moment Olympic amateurism died. Even so, Wade stated that he doesn’t play in the Olympics “for the dollar” but still admitted it would be nice to be compensated. Besides voicing his opinion, what is his other option? If he were offered a spot on the team and refused to play, people would be raking him over the coals anyway.

So before you get worked up about millionaires asking for more money to play for their country, stop and consider that there’s much more to it than that. And remember that the American cure for all ills, the free market, occasionally has unintended (and uncomfortable) side effects. But I’m not sure anyone would have it any other way.


I have a feeling you disagree with what I’ve said – it seems as though many people do. Tell me about it on Twitter (@BreakTheHuddle), through Facebook or e-mail me at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com. Try to keep it civil… eh, I’ve got thick skin. Bring it! 😉

5 Responses

  1. So money would solve the tired body issue? :).

  2. I love the post, but – as you already know – I disagree. I linked to your post in my response to your comment at Contrarian Fanatics.

    I do understand the risk that they players assume while playing in the Games, but they’re under no obligation to take that risk. They can choose not to play if they’re that concerned.

  3. But don’t you think star players would still be heavily criticized if they were offered a roster spot and turned it down? I just believe that with all the merchandise sales and TV money involved with the Olympics that all athletes (especially the ones who have more important championships outside of the Olympics – soccer, basketball, tennis) ought to be paid some sort of stipend for their time.

    • The short answer is ‘yes’ they would be criticized for turning down a roster spot. You’re right there, the patriotism of each player that stepped aside would be called into question & that would be unfair.

      How-EVA (Stephen A. Smith)… The decision would still be the player’s to make.

      What kind of stipend would you like to see offered?

  4. I don’t know enough about the specific economics of the Olympics to throw out a number, but one thing Ray Allen discussed was merchandising for jersey sales. Might be a start.

    Then again, I think college athletes should be paid… so what do I know.

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