- Many professional athletes have starting taking some (or all) of their paychecks in cryptocurrency.
- The price of Bitcoin (and other crypto coins) continues to have massive fluctuations.
- Will this trend continue into 2022 and beyond? Or will these athletes cash out their crypto as the hype begins to wear off?
Cryptocurrency continues to go through dramatic swings of dizzying highs and depressing lows. Despite the volatility, many people remain convinced it’s the currency of the future. It certainly has some promising attributes, like being insanely fast, extremely private, and totally unregulated. It also has significant drawbacks, like being terrible for the environment, subject to massive changes in value every time Elon Musk tweets, and the fact that it’s totally deregulated. Yeah, it’s a double-edge sword.
Regardless, many top tier professional athletes have taken a stake in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in recent years. Some have even negotiated their playing contracts or endorsement deals to include direct crypto payments. Will their gamble pay off? It’s hard to say, since most cryptocurrencies tanked hard in mid-2022. However, maybe these athletes are willing to hold their crypto until the prices start to bounce back. If so, it could make them a small fortune. (On top of their other, cash-based, small fortunes, of course).
Here are 15 athletes who jumped on the cryptocurrency train.
We might as well start arguably with the most famous athlete on this list. The four-time MVP quarterback of the Green Bay Packers tweeted out in 2021 that he was converting a portion of his salary in Bitcoin. He didn’t reveal exactly how much, but he recently signed a new four-year, $134 million contract. We’re guessing there’s a sizable budget for “crypto investments.”
Rogers, who led his team to a Super Bowl championship in 2011, also gave away $1 million in Bitcoin as part of his announcement, which was a partnership with CashApp. Unfortunately for Rogers, the price of Bitcoin has been cut in half since his announcement. Ouch.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Following quickly in Rogers footsteps was fellow NFL pro Odell Beckham Jr. The talented wide receiver announced he would be taking the paychecks from his new contract with the Los Angeles Rams in Bitcoin, in partnership with CashApp. Like Rogers, he also gave away $1 million in Bitcoin as part of the promotion.
However, the contract was only a one-year, $1.25 million deal. If he took the whole thing in crypto, he’s currently suffering massive losses. Beckham and the Rams actually won the Super Bowl that season, although Beckham suffered a heartbreaking ACL injury during the game. Hopefully the 29-year-old can bounce back and earn another decent NFL payday.
It wasn’t that long ago that imagining Lionel Messi is anything other than a Barcelona jersey would have been unthinkable. However, the living legend ended up making a huge move to Paris Saint-Germain in 2021. Although the exact terms of his two-year contract weren’t made public, he’s likely one of the highest paid athletes on the planet.
A portion of Messi’s new PSG contract will be paid in “$PSG Fan Tokens.” The club declared it was a “world first.” So what exactly are these tokens? They are a type of cryptocurrency that gives holders access to certain club benefits, like voting and rewards. The market capitalization value of the tokens is around $52 million. The value of a single token surged to over $60 when PSG announced the Messi signing. So just how many of these tokens does Messi own?
Trevor Lawrence is the new kid on the block. The number one overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft has only played a single season so far, quarterbacking the rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars to a dismal 3-14 season. That doesn’t really matter, though, since the NFL’s salary structure means Lawrence will earn close to $25 million as the No. 1 pick.
Lawrence announced he would be taking his entire signing bonus ($22.6 million) in cryptocurrency, in partnership with investment app Blockfolio. His portfolio reportedly includes Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Solana (a lesser-known blockchain). Hopefully Lawrence has a long and successful NFL career, which will give him plenty of chances to pad his crypto investments over the years.
Landon Cassill has been a regular on the NASCAR scene since 2007. However, he broke new ground when he announced a new 19-race sponsorship deal with Voyager, who would be paying his entire salary in Bitcoin and Litecoin. Cassill isn’t just someone hopping on the crypto bandwagon either. He tweeted out that he actually used to mine Bitcoin in his basement.
“I can trade it [cryptocurrency] right away before the market changes or hold on to it while the market goes up or down, take out a little, pay my bills with it and keep the rest,” said Cassill.
A few other NASCAR drivers also have relationships with crypto companies, most notably Darrell Wallace (who drove a CashApp sponsored car) and Ed Carpenter (who drove a Bitcoin car in the 2021 Indy 500). However, Cassill seems to be the only driver accepting his main paycheck in crypto.
Russell Okung was actually one of the first pro athletes to embrace cryptocurrency. Before Rogers or Messi, the veteran offensive linemen announced he would be taking half of his 2020 salary (which totaled $13 million) in Bitcoin. Okung, who won a Super Bowl while playing for the Seattle Seahawks, was traded to the Carolina Panthers before the 2020 season.
Okung had been hoping for this for a while, originally tweeting “Pay me in Bitcoin.” back in May 2019. He finally got his wish (and tweeted about that too). Unfortunately, injury kept him from playing much of the 2020 season, starting only seven games. He couldn’t find a contract in 2021, and remains a free agent. Let’s hope he cashed that Bitcoin out when it was at $67,000 per coin.
Ifunanyachi Achara isn’t exactly a household name. The Nigerian-born soccer player plies his trade in Major League Soccer, playing for Canadian side Toronto FC. It was announced in May 2021 that Achara would be taking roughly half his salary in Bitcoin, via third-party exchange service Bitwage.
Unlike some others on this list, Achara’s main motivation isn’t investing. He has family back in Nigeria, a country ravaged by severe inflation and questionable government financial lockdowns.
“If I wanted to send money to my parents to move away from a state that I felt like was really violent, I couldn’t,” Achara told CoinDesk. “I couldn’t send them money to the bank. It was just through Bitcoin that I was able to send my family money more easily and efficiently and as fast as possible.”
Achara is far from being a millionaire pro athlete like others on this list — he’s making just $84,000 in 2022. However, he’s coming off a serious ACL injury and is still just 24-years-old. His future remains bright.
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley is interested in creating generational wealth. With the self awareness that the average NFL career isn’t very long — especially for running backs — Barkley announced in 2021 that all of his endorsement deals will be paid in 100% Bitcoin. Interestingly enough, that doesn’t include his main salary from the Giants.
“We’re seeing inflation and we’re learning you can’t save wealth. That’s why I am going to be taking my marketing money in Bitcoin,” said Barkley on the Best Business Show with Anthony Pompliano, according to TheStreet.com.
“You see where you are able to go on the draft board and you know that you can break that curse in your family, of creating wealth in your family. You start thinking what can I do and what is the safest way. Obviously, I want to be more than a football player,” Barkley added.
Barkley has endorsement deals with Nike, Toyota, and Pepsi, plus numerous other smaller deals.
Sean Culkin was actually a trail blazer. In April 2021, he made headlines as the first NFL player to take his entire salary to Bitcoin. Unfortunately, that salary was only $920,000, as Culkin was a backup tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. To make matters worse, he was playing behind Travis Kelce, arguably the most dominant TE since Rob Gronkowski was in his prime.
Culkin said his financial interest came from his father, who was very “bullish on gold.” He would later tweet that “Bitcoin is the future of finance.”
“I want to do this with the thought it would continue to rise over the long term,” he added, according to ESPN. “This for me is a long-term play, a generational play. The more research I did and the more I zoomed out, I didn’t necessarily link volatility to risk. I saw Bitcoin was growing at such an exponential rate.”
It didn’t exactly turn out the way Culkin was hoping, though. He was released by Kansas City about a month later and has yet to sign another NFL contract. He previously played for both the Los Angeles Chargers and Baltimore Ravens.
Shades of Trevor Lawrence here, except in the NBA. Like Lawrence, Cade Cunningham was the first overall pick in the draft. After being selected by the Detroit Pistons, he announced a sponsorship deal with crypto firm BlockFi. The agreement would see his entire signing bonus converted to Bitcoin.
Neither Cunningham, the Pistons, or BlockFi would release exactly how much of his salary would end up as cryptocurrency. An additional part of the sponsorship deal would see Cunningham collaborating with BlockFi on educational videos and promotional giveaways. Even if his Bitcoin portfolio tanks, Cunningham will still make roughly $10 million in his rookie season.
A superstar pro athlete partnering with CashApp to give away $1 million in Bitcoin? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
Exactly like Rogers and Beckham Jr., Golden State Warriors star Andre Iguodala joined forces with CashApp. It’s unclear exactly how much of his contract would be converted to crypto, but he made roughly $2.6 million for the 2021-22 season alone. In almost 20 years in the NBA, he’s earned more than $180 million total.
Iguodala was part of the Warriors dynasty team that made five straight NBA Finals between 2015 and 2019, winning three championships in the process. He was also the Finals MVP in 2015. Iguodala’s decision to take part of his salary in Bitcoin happened in January 2022, when the coin’s value was around $42,000 each. It’s dropped below $30,000 more recently.
Klay Thompson has obviously been discussing his finances with Andre Iguodala, his Golden State Warriors teammate. Thompson, one half of the so-called “Splash Brothers” alongside Steph Curry, made an identical announcement as Iguodala. In fact, he even posted it on social media on the very same day – January 10, 2022.
You’ve heard the details before. He’s accepting a portion of his paycheck in Bitcoin and partnering with CashApp to give away a million dollars worth of the cryptocurrency itself. Unlike his teammate’s relatively small salary, though, Thompson will earn almost $38 million in the 2021-22 season, and more than $40M in 2022-23.
At least if his crypto investment doesn’t turn out, he should still have plenty of the five-year, $189 million contract he signed in 2019 left over to pay his bills.
You’ve probably never heard of Alex Crognale. He’s a professional soccer player that plays for the Birmingham Legion (who?) in the USL (what?). For those still scratching their heads, the USL is considered one division below Major League Soccer in the United States soccer pyramid. The salaries certainly aren’t six figures in the USL, which makes Crognale’s decision to take 15% of his paycheck in Bitcoin even more interesting. He partnered with Bitwage for the deal.
“I have been buying Bitcoin since 2020 using various exchanges, Coinbase, Binance, CashApp, I’ve tried them all,” said Crognale. “The Bitwage platform allows me to dollar-cost average into Bitcoin with ease and without transaction fees. I have a percentage of my salary paid in cryptocurrency that is direct-deposited into my wallet.”
Crognale went to explain that the rapid inflation caused (in part, anyway) by the pandemic has made him worried about the value of the dollar. He hoped that leveraging cryptocurrency would help protect some of his wealth from being gobbled up by inflation. Unfortunately, prices of almost every major crypto coin plummeted in early 2022. Hopefully Crognale is in for the long haul.
On the baseball field, Shohei Ohtani is Must See TV. The Japanese superstar is doing something that hasn’t been accomplished since Babe Ruth, excelling both as a pitcher and a power hitter. The runaway American League MVP in 2021, Ohtani is diversifying his assets in the same way he’s diversified his baseball skills.
In late 2021, Ohtani announced he was partnering with cryptocurrency firm FTX Trading. The deal includes payment in cryptocurrency, as well an equity stake in FTX. It should be noted that Ohtani’s actual baseball salary is still being paid wholly in U.S. dollars by the Los Angeles Angels. Even still, FTX is hoping to use Ohtani’s crossover international appeal as an official ambassador to expand their reach into the Asian market.
Tom Brady and his supermodel wife Gisele Bundchen have a similar deal with FTX.
Okay, we admit this one isn’t as clear. In April 2022, the UFC announced a new partnership with Crypto.com. As part of that deal, the organization will start giving out three fighter bonuses, voted on by fans, for every PPV event. The bonuses are, of course, paid out in Bitcoin. They are worth $30,000, $20,000, and $10,000, respectively.
In exchange, Crypto.com will place their logo in and around the UFC octagon, plus on fighter uniforms. They will also have other visible marketing during televised live events. The UFC also gives out cash bonuses for “Fight of the Night” and “Performance of the Night” winners, which will remain. These new Bitcoin Bonuses will be on top of that. That’s good news for fighters, who are (for the most part) criminally underpaid.