Sports

Would you rather be a legendary Olympian or an above-average, highly paid pro athlete?

Would you rather be the best ever or a role player?
Image: Getty Images

A good game of “would you rather” is always a good way to pass the time.

And with the 2021 Olympic games coming up soon, I had an interesting hypothetical that we wanted to present.

Would you rather be an Olympic icon along the lines of Simone Biles, Michael Phelps, and Usain Bolt? Or would you rather be an average to above-average athlete in an everyday professional sports league?

I’m thinking along the lines of guys like Fred VanVleet from the Toronto Raptors and Ryan Tannehill of the Tennessee Titans. You know, guys who are good professional players, but would never be mistaken for all-time greats.

For many, the question seems simple. Of course you would rather be a legendary athlete, right? However, once you start breaking down the numbers, and see the sheer disparities at play, the question becomes more complicated.

Let’s look at the net worth of these three great Olympians:

  • Michael Phelps – estimated $80 million
  • Usain Bolt – estimated $90 million
  • Simone Biles – estimated $6 million

You’d think these numbers would be exponentially higher considering how great all of these athletes are but the fact of the matter is that the Olympic cash flow isn’t really like that compared to sports who are on TV every other night. It’s great to be a darling every four years but the truth is people forget about you until every fourth year comes around. This means you have a limited opportunity to get your endorsement money and maximize your earning potential.

Now, look at these contracts from some of the average-but-paid pros named above.

Ryan Tannehill just signed a four-year, $118 million deal with $91 million guaranteed. That’s more in one contract than Bolt has in NET WORTH. Let that sink in. For his career, Tannehill has made over $115 million in 9 pro seasons as an above-average player at best.

Granted, you could make the argument that Tannehill is a quarterback in a league that overvalues the position as a whole. But let’s look at a sport and a position that doesn’t have that same luxury.

Fred VanVleet was literally undrafted coming into the NBA and still made around $543,000 his first year in the league. He balled out for a good team and signed a four-year, $85 million contract in 2020. He’s on pace to achieve $104 million in total career earnings by 2024.

For many, the extra $70-$100 million in career earnings won’t make a difference if they can be considered the best athlete to ever compete in their sport. From this perspective, there is no monetary value equivalent to greatness.

But for others, the cash speaks for itself, and if you work your whole life to become a professional athlete, you want to be able to reap ALL the benefits of your labor.

It’s interesting to see where people’s priorities lie.

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