Pro Athletes Will Be Back on the Job, But is it Work?

As the nation continues to confront a deadly pandemic, a flagging economy and difficult discussions about social justice, the world of professional sports is stepping in to offer us a brief respite from our woes.  The Minnesota Twins and Major League Baseball begin their seasons in a few days, professional hockey and basketball return next week and the National Football League is making final preparations for teams to go to training camp.

Despite some misgivings about safety amidst the coronavirus, most of the athletes seem happy about returning.  However, they often talk about “getting back to work” and just wanting to “do their jobs”, which makes us wonder if they have a good handle on what life is really like in the working world.

So, the following is an examination of a few ways in which the job of a professional athlete might seem more desirable than the ordinary 9 to 5 working world, as well as a couple of examples of where the rest of us actually have it better than they do.

The Good

Here are a few reasons why we look at professional sports and say “nice work if you can get it”:

Money for Games

Let’s start with the obvious – male professional athletes in the “major sports” earn enormous sums of money just playing a game. Not all of them earn the amazing salaries we read about in the news reports, but many do and all of them have that potential.

And they do so while playing games. This is not to denigrate the athletes’ dedication to their craft or the  skill, effort and drive that it takes to excel at the highest levels of sport.  Nevertheless, if offered the opportunity to accumulate a lifetime’s earnings in just one year of hitting/throwing/shooting a ball, a great many of us likely would ask “Where do I sign up?”

This brings to mind the (apocryphal?) story of the legendary Babe Ruth in his salary negotiations with the New York Yankees during the Depression.  When told that he was demanding a higher salary than what even the President of the United States made, Ruth supposedly responded “Well, I had a better year than he did.”

Work Schedule

The work day of a professional athlete is about 3-4 hours, for anywhere between 6-9 months a year depending upon whether their team makes the playoffs. Yes, they may work out or do some running at other times (just like a lot of us do when we are not working) but time spent plying their actual trade is about half of a standard workday, or even less.

In fact, certain athletes – starting pitchers in Major League Baseball – would view even that limited schedule as downright onerous.  These fellows are usually part of a 5-person rotation, meaning they work only every fifth day. With an ordinary (non-COVID) 162-game schedule, starting pitchers will work only 32-33 times in the regular season. For the rest of us, that’s the equivalent of working about 52 days, and only a few hours in each of those days.

This may be why, when a pitcher is removed from the rotation and sent to the bullpen, they talk so much about wanting to get back into the starting rotation.

Work Location

For those who do not follow the National Basketball Association, they are resuming their season by having the teams live, practice and play in Disneyworld.  Let that sink in.  In addition to making all that money just playing games a few hours a night, this league dominated by players in their late teens-early 20’s gets to live in Disneyworld for the next three months.

Jiminy Cricket was right – dreams really can come true.

The Bad

On the other hand, here are some reasons why we might be just as happy not to be working in the public eye like the athletes:

Working Conditions

This is definitely an area where we have it better than the athletes.  Not many of us have to endure plying our trade every day while our customers get to swear at us, call us bums (or worse) and scream all sorts of unflattering remarks about our performance, our appearance and other aspects of our personal lives. Could this be the reason that most athletes do not seem to mind resuming their seasons this year without fans in the stands?

Public Performance Assessments

Most of us do not have our job performance subject to review and critique every day in the newspapers, internet and everywhere else. We also probably do not have Facebook pages and internet sites devoted solely to the question of whether we are overrated.

(Editor’s note – since this is an employment law blog, we feel obligated to say that you should not consider starting up these sorts of Facebook pages and internet sites about your employees.  Ever.)

The Different

Here is one circumstance where the work of an athlete is just very different from ours:

The National Anthem

The National Anthem generally is not played at the beginning of our work day.  Thus, we are not faced with the “kneel for social justice” v. “stand to respect our flag” debate.

In our world, if we see co-workers kneeling in their offices, it is likely that they either dropped their cell phones or are suffering some sort of medical episode.  In either event, it is considered good co-worker etiquette to step in and help.

Bottom Line

Regardless of how we feel about the job of a professional athlete, those of us who enjoy sports are almost certainly looking forward to the resumption of the games.