Middle-distance runner Nick Symmonds is brandishing temporary tattoos on his arm to the highest bidder to display at track and field meets to raise money to train full-time for the 2012 London Olympics.
The U.S. synchronized-swimming team performed a swimming show to entertain Super Bowl revelers and to raise money to support their Olympic aspirations.
These are just two examples cited in a recent Time magazine article, “Keeping Afloat: For Many Olympic Athletes, Raising Money is a Second Job,” about the struggles of many Olympic-caliber athletes to make ends meat. To support their rigorous training schedules and travel to competitions, a majority of athletes must survive on the charity of family and friends, donations or sponsorships they can arrange from local outfits, part-time jobs and other creative gimmicks like the fundraisers by Symmonds and the synchronized-swimming team.
Only a handful of U.S. Olympians ever actually end up raking in million dollar deals or earning tens of thousands of dollars for public appearances or speeches, such as swimmer Michael Phelps or snowboarder Shaun White. However, even they do not come close to the stratospheric pay grades of professional athletes.
The story of the Olympic athlete, who is barely scraping by, has become so common it is cliché. It occurs, even though the United States Olympic Committee showed $251 million in revenue and $192 million in expenses on its latest, required non-profit financial report. That’s $59 million in profit.
It happens despite the USOC raking in close to $900 million from its more than 65 corporate sponsors, such as Nike, Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Visa, for the Winter and Summer Games. U.S. Olympians suffer although the USOC will receive $558 million as part of its share of TV money from NBC through 2020.
The athletes are poor. The U.S. Olympic organization is rich. Go figure.
Time reports that Terry Harper, USA Synchro executive director who pulls down about $130K, responded: “That is not my problem,” when synchronized swimmer Ali Williams complained that a $750 stipend was insufficient. Williams and her teammates must work at a bingo hall for extra money and still regularly cannot pay the rent or even buy groceries.
USOC CEO Scott Blackmun, whose total compensation is $638,407, voices to Time a similar lack of compassion. “We would very much like to have more resources for the athletes. But it’s hard to argue that we need to change the system.”
Olympic athletes have natural talent, dedication and drive. They devote their lives to their sport in hopes of becoming the best on a world stage. To perfect their skills and train their body and mind, they must work around the clock, leaving little time to earn money to pay for coaches, housing, food and other living expenses.
The USOC is a very profitable “charity,” but for now the organization’s stance is loud and clear: Olympians have to resort to bake sales to support themselves in their profession? Oh well, tough luck.
Duwayne Escobedo is the United States Sports Academy Director of Communications. Besides his work in public relations and marketing, during his career he has also served as a journalist for various newspapers.