Being a professional athlete is one of the most popular dream jobs that kids want growing up. They are enamored with the legions of cheering fans, the excitement of competition, and, of course, the opportunity to earn millions of dollars per year.
While most professional athletes in the U.S. across all leagues and skill levels earn less than $60,000 per year, a select few in major sports leagues are able to sign enormous contracts worth tens of millions of dollars per year.
To determine the highest paid athletes in America, 24/7 Wall St. used data from sports contract resource Spotrac. NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB athletes were ranked based on their total compensation from their team in either 2021 2021 or the 2020-2021 season. Endorsements and other off-the-field earnings were not considered.
Of the 103 athletes in the four major U.S. sports leagues who earned $20 million or more in the most recent season, NBA players lead the way with 47 players at that income level. There are 33 MLB players and 23 NFL athletes earning at least $20 million as well. No NHL players made the list — Connor McDavid was the highest paid hockey player, earning $15 million in the 2020-2021 season.
Several players on this list only rank among the highest paid athletes because of how their contracts are structured, such as signing or other bonuses. For instance, Dallas Cowboys $43.3 million in 2021. His annual salary is $22.3 million, but he received a one-time $21 million signing bonus, effectively doubling his compensation. Many other players on this list have similarly structured contracts, getting large lump sums up front to give their teams greater financial flexibility in the future.
After signing a major deal, some athletes struggle to live up to the performance standard that netted them that contract in the first place. This can be for many reasons — they may have nagging injuries, difficulty adjusting to a new team, or they may simply have aged out of their athletic prime. These are the most overpaid athletes in sports.