Beyond the Scoreboard: Kyler Murray’s Big Risk


Kyler Murray faces a huge decision this upcoming spring between two sports. (Sue Ogrocki/AP)

By Jimmy Sullivan

Throughout sports history, we have seen athletes who have played multiple sports at an exceptional level. Bo Jackson played professional football for the Oakland Raiders and professional baseball for the Kansas City Royals. Brian Jordan played three seasons for the Atlanta Falcons before hanging it up and playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves, among others. More recently, former Notre Dame tight end Jeff Samardzija chose pitching over football, and twelve years later, he’s making $18 million a year to pitch for the San Francisco Giants.

We have seen athletes forced to choose which sport to play. We’ve seen athletes choose both. But we’ve never seen a case quite like Kyler Murray.

The Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner netted a nearly $5 million signing bonus in June because he was drafted by the Oakland Athletics with the ninth pick in the MLB Draft. Murray is a likely first-round draft pick if he decides to enter the NFL Draft; even though he stands at just 5’10”, he has an innate ability to play the position and make plays needed for his team to win. So at this point, you may be saying, “That’s great! He can play both!”

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. And no, he can’t choose both.

Murray entered the NFL Draft in January but can still play baseball professionally if he so chooses. However, he made an agreement with the A’s after his selection that he would report to spring training and begin his professional baseball career this month. He is still owed just over $3 million of that signing bonus on March 1, and if he were to play football, Murray would have to pay back that massive signing bonus.

On the surface, this seems like an easy call: Murray can keep his bonus, play baseball and avoid the physical and mental health issues that NFL players have faced both during and after their careers. However, this article wouldn’t exist if Murray’s decision were that easy.

Even though he’s receiving that signing bonus from Oakland, Murray will presumably be subject to brutal wages — possibly as low as $1,100 per month — if he starts his career in the minors. For old time’s sake, let’s say Murray is the last pick in the first round of April’s NFL Draft. Last year’s 32nd pick, Lamar Jackson, received a four-year deal worth $9.5 million, and just over $8 million of that money was guaranteed.

So Murray would get, and keep, far more cash upfront, and the NFL would actually pay him more handsomely over the course of the next four years if he cannot make it to the majors. And if a team takes him earlier in the first round, then he would get far more money than the $8 million over four years. Financially, it makes much more sense for him to go to the NFL.

That is baseball’s current problem. It isn’t that the league has done anything to fix unforgivable minor league wages: it’s that the league has actively gone out of its way to prevent its up-and-comers from getting the bare minimum of what they deserve. MLB is currently trying to prevent the state of Arizona from applying minimum wage laws to minor league players.

If this were to happen, players would almost certainly receive more money than they do right now, but it still isn’t good enough for a sport that raked in over $10 billion in revenue last season, which is a record for the league.

So Kyler Murray has a choice. If he plays football, he risks various health issues, in part due to his status as a 5’10” quarterback and a moving target for much larger defensive players. If he chooses baseball, he faces years of wage discrimination and substandard living conditions, without the guarantee that he would ever make it to the livable wages of Major League Baseball.

Kyler Murray has a very difficult decision ahead of him. No matter what he decides to do, he will get robbed.