Which US sports stars are involved in cryptocurrency and NFTs?

2021 has seen cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) dominate the world of investing due to the eye-watering returns they have provided to far-sighted individuals. Naturally, they have also been prevalent in mainstream culture with plenty of people looking to jump on the bandwagon. US sports stars have been no different as they look to diversify their hefty pay checks.

Here at Pickswise, we were curious which stars have opted for the brave move to have part of their salary paid via these alternative methods. So, we’ve looked through the various major American sports to see which financially savvy individuals have gone ahead with this.

Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) after a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints

Easily the biggest name on this list, Rodgers continues to perform at a level that only a few top quarterbacks can match. His importance to the Green Bay Packers can not be understated as his absence against the chaotic Kansas City Chiefs had a significant impact, with replacement Jordan Love unable to lead them to a victory.

The 37-year-old also leads the way in the world of cryptocurrency as he decided to have part of his 2021 salary converted to Bitcoin. It’s currently unclear how much of his salary will be invested in the cryptocurrency though.

While A-Rod may be stingy on the field when it comes to turnovers, the Packers QB has generously given away one million dollars in Bitcoin to his lucky fans, in an attempt to make the coin more accessible to his supporters. Winners were selected randomly and received up to $100 each in Bitcoin. 

Odell Beckham Jr

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. (3) before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium.

Odell Beckham Jr became the latest ‘Galactico’ to sign for the LA Rams and recently announced that he would be taking his reported $4.25 million salary in Bitcoin. Just like Aaron Rodgers, the wide receiver is also giving $1m of that away to one of his fans, according to a tweet posted by the 29-year-old recently. 

Beckham Jr has followed the footsteps of Rodgers, who has part of his salary paid in Bitcoin through a similar Cash App partnership. 

Saquon Barkley

New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley runs up the field.

The 24-year-old running back made a huge impact in the NFL when he joined back in 2018 as he had consecutive 1000 yard seasons, which was even more impressive considering he only played 13 games in 2019. However, numerous injuries have hampered him since then, including an ACL tear last season.

His time off sparked another interest though as he was drawn into cryptocurrency. As a result of this, Barkley made the decision to accept endorsements in Bitcoin going forwards, with his main reason being concern about the current rate of inflation, as well as a desire to “create generational wealth”. Some reports are stating that his earnings in this area are in the eight-plus figures region.

Trevor Lawrence

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) rolls out to throw a pass in the first quarter of a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.

The young superstar may have found life tricky in the NFL so far after effortlessly breezing through college football, but he has been quietly setting himself up for the future off the pitch. Lawrence was the first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft to the surprise of no one as he comfortably led the quarterback rankings and the Jacksonville Jaguars needed a talismanic figure to build around.

His $36 million contract made him the highest-paid rookie in the league and $24 million of that was provided as a salary bonus. Rather than go down the usual route of accepting it in cash form, he opted for it to be added into his portfolio on investing app Blockfolio. At the time his contract was signed, it was reported that he had investments in Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Solana, so this decision looks to have been a wise move as all three have reached all-time highs since.

Russell Okung

Okung made headlines all the way back in 2019 as he tweeted that he wanted to be paid in Bitcoin. His wish was granted in December 2020 as half of his $13 million salary for that season was paid in Bitcoin. Considering the cryptocurrency was valued at just over $29,000 at the start of the year, Okung’s move looks well-timed as it has doubled in price since then.

The 33-year-old will forever be seen as a trailblazer as he was the first player in the league to have part of his contract paid in this way. It’ll be interesting to see what financial decisions the former first-round pick makes in the future as his decision has proved to be visionary.

Sean Culkin

Culkin took it one step further than the others on this list as he announced back in April 2021 that he was opting to have his $920,000 salary automatically converted to Bitcoin when it was paid to him on a weekly basis. Naturally, this would have left him exposed to the volatility of the cryptocurrency as we have seen even this year the sharp drops and rises that have become associated with it.

Ultimately, this didn’t matter in the end as he was cut before this could take place, but it was still an exciting development in the growing interconnected nature of major sports and cryptocurrency.

Cade Cunningham

Similar to Lawrence, Cunningham was the first pick in a major sports draft as the Detroit Pistons selected him in the 2021 NBA Draft. His start in the league has not been promising as after the first four games he was shooting 23%, but he has been recovering from an injury that made him miss pre-season and the start of the new season – it’s also still early days.

The 20-year-old made a big step into the world of cryptocurrency by forming a partnership with cryptocurrency lender BlockFi and having a signing bonus paid in Bitcoin. However, no other details have been released so it’s unclear how much that will be exactly and whether any of his four-year $45 million contract will be converted as well.

A Growing Area

Big names such as Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes have expressed support for cryptocurrency and have stakes in this area. Through his Twitter account, Mahomes has reacted to price moves in the cryptocurrency area on numerous occasions, so it’s clear he has private investments there. The Kansas City Chiefs quarterback also launched an NFT collection earlier this year which reportedly sold for $3.7 million.

Brady has publicly expressed interest in being paid in cryptocurrency, but so far his known investments are a step removed from directly investing in either cryptocurrency or NFTs. Instead, he has launched Autograph which is an NFT platform, as well as investing in FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange that he and his wife Gisele Bundchen can be seen on adverts for. Teammate and friend Rob Gronkowski also got involved as he launched a collection of NFTs that sold for more than $1.8 million.

NBA team Sacramento Kings are also involved in this space as they offered to pay anyone who works in their organization in Bitcoin all the way back in April 2021, which was a trailblazing move across the major US sports. The Staples Center will soon be named the crypto.com arena, in a massive 20-year deal worth over $700 million, according to Forbes. 

The world of cryptocurrencies and NFTs has certainly captured the imagination of many people with top athletes being no different. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what other developments there are in this area now that the trailblazers have set a route for others going forwards.