In May 2019, NFL lineman Russell Okung tweeted these four words: “Pay me in Bitcoin.”
Roughly 20 months later, he’s becoming the first player from any major U.S. sports league to be paid in the digital currency.
Okung will receive 50% of his $13 million annual salary in bitcoin. When Okung first made his request, bitcoin was worth roughly $8,177.45 — as recently as Dec. 28, its value peaked at $28,378 per coin.
The Carolina Panthers star’s unique negotiation was enabled by Strike, a product made by bitcoin startup Zap that can convert traditional paychecks into BTC.
The Panthers still pay Okung as they normally would, then Strike takes the direct deposit from the team and exchanges dollars for bitcoin. Those bitcoin are then transferred to a digital wallet owned by Okung.
Other pro athletes are getting into cryptocurrency:
- Players from teams including the Brooklyn Nets and New York Yankees have begun the process of joining Okung at Zap, founder Jack Mallers said.
- Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie attempted to tokenize his three-year, $34 million contract extension with the team, but it didn’t work out.
- San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman invests in various cryptocurrencies and is a spokesperson for exchange platform Cobinhood.
- In 2018, NFL quarterback Matt Barkley reportedly asked the 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals for a Bitcoin-based contract, but both teams declined.
In 2014, the Sacramento Kings became the first pro sports team to accept bitcoin as a payment option at their arena. The Dallas Mavericks followed suit, and the Miami Dolphins have since made Litecoin their official cryptocurrency.