Anyone who has had a passion they were able to take professional understands they are lucky to be doing what they love for money. For fame, sometimes. Whatever their circumstance is, they know they’re lucky to be doing what they love for money and or notoriety. And their luck, especially if they’re professional athletes, comes along with a lot of money.

Professional athletes are notorious for bringing home the bacon. Some of them make enough money they don’t know what to do with it and they start spending on superfluous things. Their spending continues – almost compulsively – and suddenly the athlete actually has no money left from their career. And professional athletes’ careers are without a doubt labeled with expiration dates based on the nature of the sport, the injuries the players commonly get, and other varying factors.

Put it this way. Shaq blew up to $1 million dollars in one day. Many players have little ability to manage their finances which translates in to poor financial decision making, leaving retired players bankrupt. The annual salaries of certain professional players would make the average income of the local Police Chief blush. So why do athletes make millions when there are other professions who may or may not be more deserving of the money — or may be of more value?

Because fans support them.

Our culture loves to “watch the game”. It’s common to spend Sunday afternoons on the couch, watching your local team play football. Or maybe it’s Wednesday night and it’s the top NHL rivalry matchups of the week. Americans from all corners of the country, and those of us living abroad, love to watch sports. Because of the widespread fandom, professional sports generate a lot of revenue from ticket sales to jerseys sales, and every experience in between.

Players in the NFL are notorious for how much money they make. The owners of the 32 teams in the league are the ones who can make the decisions about where their funds go – which is to say, it’s the owners of the franchises that invest in players to keep the fans happy. Is it fair to say perhaps the owners of these teams should be making smarter investments?

Regardless of the sheer volume of viewers and fans of the NFL, the question of whether professional athletes make too much money still stands. First responders around the country make an average of $35,000 annually — substantially less than the league-wide average of $1.9 million annual salary. Most NFL stars could pay the salary of a first responder multiple times over. $35,000 is near the average median household income for a good number of major metropolitan areas in the U.S. – Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Detroit all have average median household incomes below that threshold. The corresponding NFL teams of those cities could pay the average household incomes of 5,693 Buffalo residents, 4,877 Cincinnati residents, and 6,641 Detroit residents. NFL team owners could be making different kinds of investments in the cities their teams call home.

Without a doubt, there is a disparity between those who can save our lives and those we watch on television as entertainment. First responders like firefighters and policemen risk their lives for Americans every day. Do athletes?

The answer to that question, according to Odell Beckham Jr., might be, “yes”. In an interview in 2015, Odell Beckham Jr. said he believed NFL players should be paid more due to the full-contact, full-collision nature of the sport. But not all players are of that mindset. In fact, some give back to the community – in particular, to first responders like firefighters and soldiers. Players can make an impact on and off the field. Owners can use their team as a platform to make a difference in the communities that love and root for their team.