Column - Olympians should be honored, regardless of pay
Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 17, 2012 00:04
Compensation for athletes has always been somewhat of a controversial topic. Professionals are paid too much, college athletes aren’t rewarded fairly – there are a number of relevant discussions to be had on the issue.
But NBA players Ray Allen and Dwayne Wade set off a new firestorm last week when they publicly claimed professional basketball players from the United States should actually be compensated for their time competing at the Olympic Games.
"You talk about the patriotism that guys should want to play for, but you (need to) find a way to entice the guys," Allen said in an interview with FOX sports. "Everybody says, ‘Play for your country.’ But (NBA players are) commodities – your businesses."
After Allen’s comments, reporters quickly found others actually echoed the sentiment that Olympians should be paid for their performances.
"It’s a lot of things you do for the Olympics – a lot of jerseys you sell," said Wade. "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."
Even though they were more a response to Allen’s comments than anything else, Wade’s remarks seemed to carry even more sting, even more disregard for the fact that countless Olympians now and throughout history have never needed any more incentive than the pride that comes from representing their respective countries.
I want to be clear: I’m well aware I could never personally understand exactly what these professional athletes have to go through.
Certainly, they’re often portrayed in a negative light – greedy and self-entitled – but at the same time, it’s always important to consider just how hard these professional athletes have to work on a consistent basis, and what an entire season takes out of them.
The argument Allen and Wade are making is simply economic in its essence. They understand the concept of opportunity cost and realize by participating overseas in the Olympic Games they are depriving themselves of valuable off-season rest as well as other countless opportunities.
On the other hand, I think both players may have failed to realize that opportunity cost doesn’t strictly refer to monetary gains and losses either, and by advocating that these professional athletes should be paid actually devalues the Olympic experience itself.
Basically, it’s a representation of how a fiscal focus can overshadow the more pure aspects of pride and sportsmanship of the Olympic Games.
Other players, like Boston’s Rajon Rondo, choose to pass up the chance to represent their country for more personal reasons.
"I’m not focusing at all on the Olympics. At all," said Rondo, Allen’s teammate and widely considered one of the best point guards in the game today. "Wondering why? I love my summers. I’ll leave it at that."
Wade, who has represented his country twice already, has since clarified his comments via Twitter.
"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."
It’s a tremendous honor to be asked to represent your country in the Olympic Games – I doubt you’d find anyone to argue that point – but I also think it’s important for the majority of the population to acknowledge how valuable the precious off-season can be for some athletes in literally preserving their livelihoods – their bodies.
Ultimately, like Wade said, it is a very complicated issue that exists because it’s natural the NBA’s best players will sometimes have priorities other than representing their countries at the Olympic Games.
We shouldn’t condemn those who have priorities outside the modern-day, watered-down Olympic basketball competition.
At the same time, the professional players should never overlook the chance to represent the society that allows them to earn millions of dollars a year playing a game they love.