“Pay Me In Bitcoin” Movement Adds Another Athlete To Its CryptoRoster

Professional athletes continue to demand cryptocurrency as payment for salaries, bonuses, sponsorships, and endorsements.

Alex Crognale, a center back for Birmingham Legion of the United Soccer League (USL), is the latest professional athlete to endorse payment in cryptocurrency and the first player in the USL reported to have converted a portion of his salary to bitcoin.

The origin of the “Pay me in Bitcoin” apothegm started in May 2019 from a tweet by Russell Okung, a Carolina Panthers Offensive Tackle in the National Football League (NFL).  What followed in December 2020, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported in a tweet, “An NFL first: #Panthers OT Russell Okung will receive half of his $13M in salary in Bitcoin…@russellokung will fulfill the goal he set when he tweeted ‘Pay me in Bitcoin’!” 

While not directly paid in cryptocurrency, the conversation from fiat to bitcoin was facilitated by “the creative payroll solutions from the Panthers” and in partnership with a paycheck conversion program called Strike, which is owned by Zap.  For Bitcoin enthusiasts, Strike operates like Venmo or Cash App. Integrated with the Lightning Network, Strike links ACH bank transfers to any bitcoin address converting well over 200 different fiat currencies instantaneously to bitcoin.

Like Russell Okung, Alex Crognale used a paycheck conversion service to convert funds from fiat to bitcoin.  Specifically, Crognale took 15% of his salary in bitcoin last month, facilitating this exchange using Bitwage.  Since 2020, Crognale has used various exchanges to buy Bitcoin, but as Crognale explains, “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.”

What’s Driving This Movement?

With a background in economics, Alex Crognale is well aware of the concerns around a gross increase in the money supply by the United States Federal Reserve over the past year due to COVID-19:

“The United States Federal Reserve responded to the damaging impact of COVID-19 lockdowns by printing massive amounts of US dollars.  The more stimulus money pumped into the economy, the less the dollars in our pockets are worth.  Quantitative easing was necessary to keep our country from falling into a depression, but the long-term impact was understated if mentioned at all.  The predictable supply of Bitcoin makes it resistant to inflation, and not in the control of any one entity or government body.”

Another professional athlete, Toronto FC forward Ifunanyachi Achara, converted half his salary to bitcoin, switching to Bitwage in February after having executed his own Binance buys over prior months.  Achara concurs with Crognale stating concerns over the inflation of fiat currency:

 “The rate of inflation is killing us. The more the U.S. prints money during COVID to help people, the more it devalues our currency.  So my family, when I send them money home, I send them bitcoin.”

Bitcoin has a finite supply of 21 million, it operates on a peer-to-peer network which means no middleman such as banking institutions and minimal associated fees.

Another incentive is obvious: the potential for large profits.  Bitcoin’s value in 2011 was just $1.00 and this month, it is now over $60,000.  For those who are riding this bull market, the value of your earnings can experience tremendous gains, as was the case with Okung.  Between the time he converted half of his salary to Bitcoin in December 2020 to its value now, the price of Bitcoin has more than doubled.  Including his Bitcoin profit, “Okung [is] one of the highest-paid offensive tackles in the NFL and one of the top 25 highest-paid players!”  Yet with any speculative investment, it’s subject to losses too.

What’s Happening with Franchises?

A few sports franchises accept cryptocurrency for payment of season tickets, suite leases, partnerships, and merchandise.  Included in the lineup is San Jose Sharks, which was the first NHL team to do so.  However, leading this movement was NBA’s Sacramento Kings in 2014 and Dallas Mavericks in 2019, as well as Oakland Athletics in March 2021 as the first major league baseball team. 

With that, NBA’s Sacramento Kings announced earlier this year that soon all players and staff will be able to receive payment in Bitcoin.  So far, this is the first major sports franchise to make this direct Bitcoin payment an option, rather than requiring a conversion process.  The fact that the Sacramento Kings has been holding Bitcoin on their balance sheet for over 7 years, along with the tremendous gain in price, gives them the capacity to pay salaries in Bitcoin directly.

The Latest Breakdown

AthleteLeagueTeamCrypto Stats
Russell OkungNFLCarolina PanthersHalf of $13M salary converted to Bitcoin(reported December 29, 2021)
Trevor LawrenceNFLJacksonville JaguarsPart of signing bonus with Blockfolio partner paid in crypto (reported April 2021)
Sean CulkinNFLKansas City Chiefs1st NFL player to convert entire $920,000 salary to Bitcoin (reported April 2021)
Saquon BarkleyNFLNew York GiantsAll future endorsements ($10M value) in Bitcoin (reported July 2021)
Cade CunninghamNBADetroit PistonsA multi-year sponsorship deal with crypto lender BlockFi paid an undisclosed signing bonus in Bitcoin, and part of his 4-year $46.5M deal in crypto (reported August 2021)
Ifunanyachi AcharaMLSToronto FCPart of his salary converted to Bitcoin (reported May 2021)
Alex CrognaleUSLBirmingham Legion15% of his salary converted to bitcoin (reported October 2021
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