Tom Sorensen

Are NFL stars overpaid? Pampered? There are reasons neither thought is true.

When NFL players are criticized, they’re often referred to as pampered and overpaid. It’s as if the terms are entwined. True, the NFL stays in hotels in which you don’t drive your car to the door of your room. But I watched new Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Dontari Poe walk to minicamp. He’s 6-3 and 346 pounds. If your job is to block Poe, you aren’t pampered.

Employees in some professions are underpaid. Among them are the obvious – police officers and teachers. You’d love to find a way to get them more money. But because they are underpaid, does that mean NFL players are overpaid?

We’re not paid by the value of what we do.

We’re paid by the exclusivity.

Think about what you do for a living. How many others do it in Charlotte, the Carolinas, the Southeast, the U.S., the world?

Now, think how many of us grew up throwing passes or catching them, or trying to stop people from throwing them or catching them?

Almost every kid I played with on elementary school and park teams figured he’d someday play in the NFL. I did. You probably did. I was wrong. You might have been, too.

Think of the people with which you played football. How many become high school stars? How many of those high school stars become college stars? How many of those college stars make it to the NFL?

There are 32 teams in the NFL and this week there were almost 100 players on the Carolina Panthers’ minicamp roster. They’ll open training camp next month with 90. When the season begins, they’ll have 53.

Multiply 53 by 32 teams and you get 1,696. That’s it. That’s all the players there are.

Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Dontari Poe is 6-foot-3 and 346 pounds. If your job is to block Poe, you aren’t pampered. Jeff Siner

Go to Spartanburg this summer, where the Panthers (for now) train. You’ll see players that never seem to drop a pass and never seem to allow a receiver to catch one. You might never have heard of them. But they look good, and they are.

They likely have been stars all their lives. Yet they aren’t good enough to make the Panthers or any other team.

No matter how we make our living, there’s a winnowing. You’re good and you’re going to make it big and then – somebody else does. You don’t get to be the hedge fund genius, the CEO, the startup star, the successful novelist, the NBA point guard or the NASCAR winner, and you don’t get to stand behind center and lead your NFL offense.

We know the parameters that determine how much money a football player is paid, the splashy contracts for the stars and the veteran and rookie minimums for everybody else that, frankly, don’t feel like minimums.

Be honest: Even with the risk of injury, even with the risk of brain trauma, wouldn’t you love to put on the helmet and pads and make that kind of money?

I would. I can’t. You can’t.

NFL players aren’t going to gather in the classroom to teach our kids, try to keep us safe or, for that matter, remove our cancer.

In that context, their jobs aren’t terribly important.

But they are terribly difficult to attain.

Tom Sorensen is a retired Charlotte Observer columnist. Sign up for his newsletter, and follow him on Twitter: @tomsorensen

More from this issue of the Tom Talks newsletter: