Every major free agent signing ( at least in Baseball ) generates an enormous media buzz, and all details are completely available to whoever reads the paper. Why are the salaries of professional athletes SOOOO public?

Is this allowed in all careers, and we just don't care about most?

Even so, it still seems that athletes are subject to a ridiculous level of scrutiny. This isn't some new thing either - there are even quizzes you can take about the highest paid baseball players ( here is one of many ) on Sporcle.

Am I missing something? This seems grossly unfair to professional athletes, who are subject to mockery and judgement from the media, fans, etc. if they are not performing consistant with their contract. In this era that we live in, this appears to be a disregard for privacy so flagrant that I'd expect to hear more about it. But I've never heard anyone complain about it other than the occasional groans by the players ( groans that are summarily mocked and dismissed by the media ).

Does anyone know why this is and how it started? Additionaly, has anyone ever seriously spoken against it ( e.g. proposed legislature, lawsuits, etc. )?

  • 1
    Not an answer but a counterpoint: in track and field (athletics) while prize money is publicly announced, athlete income through sponsorships is often closely held and varies widely from athlete to athlete. It is difficult to impossible to know what most of these athletes are paid unless they want to tell you. There are many in the sport who wish it was public simply to increase fan interest.
    – pjmorse
    Mar 7, 2016 at 16:10

1 Answer 1


There are a couple of reasons why professional baseball players' salaries are public.

Baseball employs a luxury tax rule that penalizes teams when the salaries are too high. The salaries need to be made public in order for this system to work. Other sports have salary cap rules which also require public knowledge of the athletes' salaries.

Professional sports are entertainment, and part of the fun in sports is the fans scrutinizing decisions made by the team management. Giving the fans knowledge about the salary implications of various signing decisions helps fans understand the reasons why certain decisions are made.

You mention that you think it is unfair for the athletes to have their performance be compared to the size of their contract. But indirectly, the athletes work for the fans. Being a professional athlete is a public job, and taking criticism is part of that job. When it comes to their job, including their salary, they are not entitled to privacy.

Athletes are not alone in having their salaries made public. In fact, the salaries for most public figures, including movie stars, politicians, government employees, and corporate management, are public knowledge.

  • You make some good points - certainly worthy of an upvote. Government employees are a good counter example though. Though their salaries are public; their salaries are never publicly scrutinized and used as a benchmark for their performance. Is this just preference ? (They certainly are scrutinized - just not - at least as far as I can tell - scrutinized in reference to their paycheck)
    – dgo
    Mar 3, 2016 at 20:23
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    @user1167442 At least in the US, government employees salaries are scrutinized by the media when corruption is suspected. i.e. Governor x gave his/her friend a 100,000 per year job, was this the best candidate for the job or is it because of a personal relationship. And certain professions have the mean salary discussed in a political sense. Just look at teachers in WI.
    – kuhl
    Mar 4, 2016 at 18:31
  • @kuhl - true. But you wouldn't here someone say. Obama's a junky president and he gets paid $400,000 a year - or whatever it is
    – dgo
    Mar 5, 2016 at 19:05
  • Also. Are athletes really public sector employees? Baseball is a public sort, but for sure teams are private business entities.
    – dgo
    Mar 5, 2016 at 19:06
  • @user1167442 not at that level, no. But I have read that type of comment about someone who is at a lower level. I.e. the number two person at a state department of transportation or something
    – kuhl
    Mar 5, 2016 at 19:08

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