“N—-s for lease.”
Those are the words Martellus Bennett uttered when asked what the NFL stands for during an interview with ESPN: The Magazine this past summer.
The 6’6” 275-pound tight end that plays for the New England Patriots, Bennett is widely considered a success story; he lives the dream that fills so many kids’ heads all across America. He’s a millionaire doing what he loves. Yet, even he sees the one-sided and unfair compensation structure that exists in the modern-day NFL. No writer, broadcaster, lawyer or person has ever been so right about the NFL in so few words.
Bennett had 90 catches in 2014, a league best among tight ends. He made just a shade under five million dollars that year. Revenue for the NFL that year was $7.2 billion. That revenue is split among 32 teams, so the Chicago Bears (his employer) received a check from the league office for (let me clear my throat) $226.4 million. Bennett’s salary that year accounted for just over two percent of that check. That check does not even include money generated by the Bears locally (like ticket sales, parking, local advertisements, etc.)
Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner who has screwed up just about everything he can screw up (a quick, nonexhaustive list: Spygate, numerous incidents of domestic violence, concussions/CTE, player health and safety, quality of play and deflategate), pulls in an annual salary north of $30 million. Bennett, one of the best in the league at his position, will be lucky to make that much in his NFL career.
When I watch the New England Patriots on Sundays, I love watching Bennett. He delivers punishing blocks to open up running lanes and makes catches that smaller or slower defensive players have no chance to defend. He’s a matchup nightmare, and a valuable, every-down player.
Players like Bennett are why the NFL is worth $7.2 billion. Given the current pay structure, they aren’t paid what they’re worth, especially considering the risk they put themselves in every time they step on the field.
The entertainment product produced on football fields, basketball courts, baseball diamonds, soccer pitches and hockey rinks is, in my opinion, far and away the best that exists in the entire industry. The athletes create this product; the owners, coaches and media assist in making the product more accessible (mostly), improve the quality (sometimes) and generally improve the growth of their respective sports (for the most part) but not nearly as much as the players themselves.
The current compensation format is unsuitable. It’s not right for people to sacrifice their whole lives in pursuit of turning their childhood dreams into a reality, and then give (some of) them a few million dollars for a while and kick them to the curb when they’re too old to perform anymore. What does that say about me as a consumer of this product?
Exactly the wrong thing. Only pennies on every dollar I spend on the NFL goes to players. The majority of it goes to billionaire owners and a career bureaucrat sitting at an ornate desk in the league office. Really, what are they doing to deserve so much more than the players themselves?
This generates whole new meaning to the phrase “I can’t wait to watch some NFL this weekend.”