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Do professional athletes get paid too much? | Pro/Con

The drama over Ben Simmons puts tens of millions of dollars at stake — and that’s just one player’s salary, for one season. Meanwhile, ticket prices are soaring.

This fan at a Sixers preseason game last week replaced guard Ben Simmons' name and number on his T-shirt with center Joel Embiid's name and number.
This fan at a Sixers preseason game last week replaced guard Ben Simmons' name and number on his T-shirt with center Joel Embiid's name and number.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

At the start of another NBA season, the one name on most Philadelphians’ lips is Ben Simmons. The Sixers guard skipped training camp and missed preseason games, and Sixers fans have been breathlessly speculating about any clues regarding his status. When Simmons listed his two local residences up for sale, it made news.

Simmons faces fines of more than $1 million, but that’s chump change to someone whose salary for one season is $33 million.

To most people, the idea that someone could get tens of millions of dollars after refusing to show up to work is obscene. But in sports, this pay scale is not uncommon.

So, The Inquirer asks: Are professional athletes overpaid?

Yes: Many professional athletes — including Ben Simmons — are overpaid.

By Christian Red

The Sixers guard sat before the media throng, trade rumors swirling around him, the background noise growing louder, as Philadelphia fans griped about another professional athlete who’s paid millions and acts like a diva.

Yes, Ben Simmons is the latest Philly target in the proverbial sports fan crosshairs, but it was Allen Iverson who was at the center of that firestorm almost 20 years ago, when the 11-time All-Star blasted the assembled press on why he had to answer questions about practice.

“I’m supposed to be the franchise player and we in here talking about practice … not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last,” Iverson said in a May 2002 press conference, days after his team was ousted in the first round of the playoffs. “How silly is that?”

What may seem silly, in hindsight, was any public grousing about The Answer’s then-salary — approximately $11.25 million for the 2001-02 season — only a year removed from Iverson leading the Sixers to an NBA Finals appearance against the Los Angeles Lakers while simultaneously winning league MVP honors.

Simmons, who’s set to earn $33 million this season (more than twice Iverson’s ‘01-’02 salary), has played four seasons in Philly, yet the Sixers have never advanced beyond the Eastern Conference semifinals. During the club’s most recent playoff series, a seven-game semifinal affair against the Atlanta Hawks this past spring, Simmons struggled with his shot, most painfully in the Game 7 clincher at home, when he scored a measly five points and failed to convert a wide-open dunk in the waning moments.

So is Simmons worth the $147 million left on his contract?

That the Sixers couldn’t find a suitable trade partner for Simmons these past few months might tell you everything you need to know.

“Maybe teams should start slashing contracts and develop a business model that translates to cheaper tickets.”

Christian Red

How much fun must it be for Sixers coach Doc Rivers — with all that he’s accomplished in his basketball life — to have to deal with a headache like Simmons at this stage of his career? Or how about the fans — who often foot the bill for new stadiums — who pay a hefty price to see the millionaire players perform? Maybe teams should start slashing contracts and develop a business model that translates to cheaper tickets.

» READ MORE: Ben Simmons comes crawling back to the Sixers to save money, if not face | Marcus Hayes

During the 16 years I worked at the New York Daily News, I covered a Yankees franchise where there was no shortage of big Steinbrenner money spent during the winter months in order to land a coveted free agent here or complete a glitzy trade there. How’s $423.5 million sound for three players? That’s how much the Yankees unloaded on infielder Mark Teixeira, and pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett after the team failed to make the 2008 postseason. But that hefty sum paid off, as the team went on to win its 27th championship the following fall.

But there were plenty more expensive pinstriped busts — pitcher Carl Pavano, anyone? Pavano signed a four-year, $39.95 million deal, but made 26 starts total during his Yankee tenure. He spent so much time injured that New York Post beat writer George King III dubbed Pavano “American Idle.” Perhaps no contract in recent Yankee history was as big an albatross as Jacoby Ellsbury’s. The outfielder inked a seven-year, $153 million contract before the 2014 season, but didn’t play in any games for the final three years.

Yes, professional athletes rarely come cheap these days, and more often than not, championships require deep coffers (see 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers). That doesn’t mean we fans have to like it.

Christian Red is a freelance sports writer based in Milford, Pa.

No: Athletes deserve to earn their market value because fans will pay it.

By Jeff Neiburg

I am writing this on a laptop connected to a WiFi network that keeps getting more expensive.

In the background, a baseball playoff game accessed via Hulu Live ($64.99/month and up) hums away. Dodger Stadium is full and loud, and those in attendance probably paid hundreds, some maybe thousands.

Sometime later tonight, I’ll take out my iPad in bed and pick up where I left off at the beginning of season six of The West Wing. That’s on HBO Max, one of the seven or more — it’s hard to keep up — streaming services my girlfriend and I have access to in our apartment.

We have tickets to a Broadway show coming up, and soon after that an Eagles game on the road. You can imagine how much tickets cost for those events, and how much money will be spent eating our way through those trips.

Many of us do a lot of these things without ever thinking about how much our entertainers are paid. We work for our money, dammit, and spend it on things that make us happy. And the beat goes on.

» READ MORE: It’s business as usual for Sixers as they await Ben Simmons’ return to court

I long ago divorced from the idea that athletes, movie stars, musicians, and other entertainers and artists are paid too much money. To think otherwise in this day and age is to blatantly misunderstand entertainment economics.

Yet here we are, back in the never-ending cycle of revisiting the years-old question of the modern-day athlete and the gauge of their wallets.

“It’s not the athlete’s or entertainer’s fault they make so much money. We keep paying.”

Jeff Neiburg

The Ben Simmons drama is the latest match to light the fire, apparently. Simmons, of course, decided to not show up for training camp and missed preseason games despite being under contract for more than $33 million this season.

Many pointed to that salary number — more than most people will see in multiple lifetimes — and scoffed. But those same people who called to complain on the highly rated and expensive-to-advertise-on sports radio morning show are the same people who buy tickets to games and pay double the normal price for a domestic beer.

They’re probably like me, too. They have a few different streaming services. They might even dabble a little in sports betting and probably play in a few fantasy football leagues. When March Madness comes every year, they might enter the office pool and take a sick day.

All of this is to say that it’s not the athlete’s or entertainer’s fault they make so much money. We keep paying. Prices keep going up, but there never seems to be a dearth of customers.

Plus, consider the inflated salaries of other artists and entertainers. Why does Robert Downey Jr. get to make $75 million to play a comic book character on the big screen? Well, go look up how much money Avengers: Endgame grossed. (It’s $2.8 billion.)

Go look up how much Judge Judy makes to tape reportedly 52 days a year. ($47 million each year.)

It’s not the fault of Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless that the two of them make eight-figure salaries to have what amounts to be fake arguments about sports during what are normally awful television slots.

Pat yourself on the back, sports fans. You did that.

Jeff Neiburg is a writer based in Philadelphia.