What financial avenue will the athlete of the future take?
That’s a question that’s been on my mind quite a bit lately. And it’s not a random one, either.
Two weeks ago, Odell Beckham, Jr. announced he’d be taking his new salary entirely in Bitcoin. That made him the latest in a line of pro athletes who want their next phase of compensation to come in the form of cryptocurrency. In the past year or so, other NFL players like Russell Okung and Trevor Lawrence have taken their salaries in crypto. Years after becoming the first pro sports team to accept Bitcoin from their fans in the stadium, the Sacramento Kings are starting to let their players be paid with it, too. Now you see Coinbase advertising across the NBA and the FTX Arena in Miami, as well as Crypto.com Arena in LA. (It’ll always be STAPLES Center to me). Even LaMelo Ball and other rookies have gotten into NFTs.
The blockchain is knocking on the door of the sports world—and, in some cases, barging through it.
Of course, decentralized finance has been growing outside of sports for quite some time now. Many started this year joking about Dogecoin and the dozens of others crypto currencies out there, but more and more people are turning to the financial opportunities offered by the rise of Web 3.0. And athletes have every reason to do the same.
As a pro—especially a young one—it’s very easy to become a target for many things, especially people looking to make a buck. I’ve written before about the need for financial literacy amongst college athletes. It’s an issue I care about because I wish I’d been clearer on who was legit when guys were approaching me at the mall in Atlanta when I was 18, telling me they were agents. (They probably weren’t banking on me remembering their names and looking them up years later, though. Spoiler Alert: They weren’t actually agents.)
That urgency doesn’t just end when you get to the big leagues, though. If anything, it increases. In addition to the “agents,” you’ve also got a handful of ill-intentioned financial advisors mixed in with the legit ones. You’ve got so much on your plate as far as acclimating to the league that praying on your ignorance becomes easy to those who do it for a living. And believe me, there are people scheming on young people’s ignorance in the sports world day in and day out. Check Finra.com to make sure a financial advisor is in good standing or a financial advisor at all. People will tell you anything.
All that has me tuned to new developments online and in the market. When I first heard about something called “Web 3.0,” a few years ago, my first question was: The hell is that? Turns out, it’s pretty simple: If the “Web 2.0” version of the Internet was all about networking on massive online platforms, Web 3.0 is going to be about independence—leveling the playing field by bringing practices like banking into the public, where anyone with wifi has access and can shoot their shot. (The Robinhood app is an interesting example.)
Decentralized finance (DeFi) is a major part of this shift. Team owners like Mark Cuban have been talking about it for a while now and not just because it’s trendy. Taking a salary in cryptocurrency can be a way to have more control—instead of parking your money with a bank that’s going to charge holding fees and invest it somewhere else, you’re handling your own cash, making your own decisions. Plus, blockchain innovations like smart contracts can establish built-in safeguards from the jump, so that young athletes are less vulnerable to surprises from shady third parties. The technology is built to make things a bit more transparent and that’s a great thing when it comes to finance. Of course, getting consulted on how to manage those finances through a third party is still an option. And having an accountant or keeping your money in a bank can still have its perks.
I’m definitely not an expert on Web 3.0 or crypto—and, of course, these worlds have hustlers of their own. I’m not saying that it’s the solution to everything, But I do know that if these resources had been around when I was coming up, I might have taken advantage of them. The wild world of crypto isn’t necessarily for everyone, but I’m damn sure there are some people—especially pro athletes—who’d benefit from having the option to give it a look. I’m a huge believer in seeking education and doing research on any given subject I want to get into—especially if it can benefit me in the future—and I advise you to do the same.
I’m definitely excited to learn more about it.