Top 10 Career Paths that Pay More than a Professional Athletic Career

Money. It’s part of the draw when one dreams to be an athlete. It’s among the many factors that make an athletic career a desirable option. The chances of making a professional league, however, are extremely slim. The NBA, which is the toughest league to crack, gives a high school player a .03% chance of making it pro. And a 1.2% chance for a college player. That’s pretty low odds. The NBA consequently has the highest average yearly salary of all the five major sport leagues at $5.15 million. That’s a lot of money, especially if you consider that the average salary of a surgeon is $260,000 a year. A surgeon can get paid as low as $220,000 and the median is around $300,000 but that’s considering all surgeons. How about the surgeons in the top one percent of their field?

An athlete in a professional sport is competing with the top one percent of all athletes in the U.S. population. It is only fair that we compare them with the rest of the top one percent of all professions. A semi-professional athlete can make on average $62,000 a year or as low as $150-200 a game. That's why we have to compare professional athletes to others in terms of skill and level of success.  Like we said, a surgeon makes $260,000, but the top ones can make upwards of ten millions dollars a year. The highest-paid surgeon in the State of New York made $7.2 million in 2009.

To get into the top one percent, in terms of income brackets, a person has to earn about $368,000 a year and the sky's the limit from there. The average is $960,000. The lowest, league minimum salary, out of the four leagues, is playing in the NFL for $350,000, which means all professional athletes are in the top one percent of the income bracket in a given year.

We’re going to compare how athletes stack up against the one percent of the population. In terms of wealthy individuals working in arts, media and sports account for 1.6% of the wealth in the top one percent. For a comparison, hedge fund managers account for 7%.

The one top one percent isn’t filled with only greedy Wall Street executives as some people would claim. It’s actually pretty diverse. And that’s what you'll realize after looking at the list. But, more importantly, the list gives us an opportunity to see career paths that may be more rewarding, and with a lower risk, than pursuing a professional athletic career in the four major professional sports.

Keep in mind that athletic careers are relatively shorter than all the other career paths. The average NFL athlete plays three years in the NFL. Longevity is always an issue and athletes usually peak earlier than the rest of the careers we will compare them to. So the question becomes: how rich do you want to be? What pays more in the long run? Is the fame worth it? Is the risk worth it? Can I live my dream doing it? Things to think about to make this article more relevant to you.

10 Writers

Writing isn’t easy. There are approximately 638,357 writers working in America. This includes all writers from freelancers and copywriters to successful novelists. The average median pay, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $55,940 per year or $26.89 an hour. When it comes to the top 1 percent of writers, 3.5% of them earn enough to be considered in the top 1 percent. The highest paid writer in 2013 was James Patterson, the prolific author who is best known for the Alex Cross series among others. He earned $94 million in 2013 alone. And unlike many authors, he earns nearly all his money from book sales and relatively little from TV and film royalties. The second highest earner is another prolific author: Stephen King who made $39 million. Others include, John Grisham at $26 million, Danielle Steel at $23 million, J.K. Rowling at $17 million, and George R.R. Martin at $15 million.

Screenwriters are also top earners. Some earn a million or more per screenplay. The script for A Knight’s Tale starring Heath Ledger was bought for $2.5 million. Eurotrip was purchased for 4 million. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: $4 million. Deja Vu with Denzel Washington was purchased for $5 million. Aaron Sorkin, one of the most well-known screenwriters in Hollywood, and the writer of Social Network, Moneyball and the creator of The West Wing has a net worth of 80 million.

Writers with expertise and passion can earn as much or even more than athletes. But writers have to face the possibility, regardless of skill, that their work might not get recognized in their lifetime. But it’s a risk worth taking if the passion is there.

9 Real Estate

Land is a great asset. A great asset to those who control them, and to those who choose to sell them. The resorts, parks, hotels, buildings, homes, mines, forests etc. They’re all owned by someone. If you own enough real estate, land becomes a game. And just like any other game, it’s the greatest at the highest level. 32,505 people in the profession encompass this bracket. The National Association of Realtors had 997,148 members in 2013, which means that 3.25% of real estate agents in the U.S. are in the top one percent. The median income of the profession is $43,500. The top real estate agent based on sales volume in 2010 was John Burger at $279,841,487 for Brown Harris Stevens. Mary Gullixson came in second with a volume of $226,387,081 working for Alain Pinel Realtors. The last person on the Wall Street Journal’s list, at number 251, sold $35,377,931 worth of real estate. I’ll let you figure out the commissions. But for a reference Lebron James earned $53 million in 2013 including endorsements.

8 Restaurant Owners/Chefs

If food is your thing then becoming a chef or start a restaurant chain could be an option. The average mean pay, according to the bureau of labor statistics, is 46,370 or 22.39 an hour. The number of chefs working in America, according to the Bureau, is 97,370. But like all the professions on the list, the top 1 or .5 percent of chefs earn way more. Gordon Ramsay, the host of Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef, owns 23 restaurants across the globe and earned $38 million last year. Wolfgang Puck owns 20 fine dining restaurants, dozens of catering locations, and 80 Wolfgang Puck Express locations. He made $20 million. Other chefs include: Paula Deen who made $17 million, while Mario Batali made $13 million and Guy Fieri, Food Network’s biggest star and last to crack the top ten, made $8 million.

7 Actors, Directors, & Producers

What people in these professions have in common with athletes is that both of their works are in entertainment. There are 215,518 actors, directors, & producers working in America. 6,751 make enough to be considered in the top 1 percent. The median income of directors and producers is $71,350 or $34.31 an hour. The figure for actors is $20.26 an hour, with no yearly statistic available. Some of the earners for last year should sound familiar. Robert Downey Jr. made $85 million last year, Channing Tatum earned $60 million, Hugh Jackman made $55 million and Liam Neeson, 10th on the list, made $32 million. Angelina Jolie earned the highest of all actresses with $30 million, while Jennifer Lawrence earned $35 million and Julia Roberts, 10th on the list, made $10 million. The sky's the limit for producers and directors. Steven Spielberg made $100 million, George Lucas earned $4 billion for selling Star Wars to Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer made 100 million. The list is loaded with money earners.

6 Musicians, Singers, and Producers

Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports Images

“I swear sports and music are so synonymous/Cause we want to be them, and they want to be us.” -Drake, Thank Me Now

It pays more to be a musician than any other entertainment profession. There’s more ways to make money: touring, album sales, song play, song rights etc. And a musician can easily transfer to producing at any time. The average median pay, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics for a musician is $23.50 an hour. And for the same reasons as actors, there is no definite yearly salary income. The Bureau estimates that there are 167,400 musicians working in America. The top paid musician for 2013 was Madonna who made $125 million and Lady Gaga came in second at $45 million. Bon Jovi, Toby Keith and Coldplay earned around $64 million for touring last year. Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift round out the top ten with $58 and $55 million respectively. Diddy was the highest hip-hop earner with $50 million, with many of it coming for many different music and business endeavors.

Music producers, much like movie producers, can earn way more than musicians. Rick Rubin, one of the most influential hip hop producers, has a net worth of $400 million. Dr. Dre, an example of an artist transitioning, hasn’t made an album in a while but has a net worth of $360 million, a large sum from producing. Not to mention figures like Simon Cowell, who produces many of the musicians he finds, made $95 million last year, largely due to his rise as a TV personality.

5 Medical Professions

There are 25 medical specialties that pay more than the minimum salary for all the professional sport leagues. Based on mean averages, orthopedic surgeons who work on spines, are on the top of the list with an average of $714,088. Other high paying concentrations for orthopedic surgeons are hip & joints ($589,267), sports medicine ($550,000), and general orthopedic surgery ($526,398). Dr. James Andrews, famous for being the go to orthopedic surgeon for athletes, has a net worth of $10 million, with the figure considerably higher after his recent success and fame.

Other’s on the list include: Neurological surgery ($701,927),  cardiovascular surgery — pediatric ($681,408) neurological surgery — pediatric ($656,282), cardiology — electrophysiology ($601,111), dermatology — Mohs surgery ($586,083), cardiovascular surgery: ($567,171), radiology — diagnostic-invasive: ($513,000), pediatric surgery ($505,281), anesthesiology — pain management: ($502,775) radiology ($485,334), anesthesiology — pediatric: ($482,299), radiation oncology: ($477,807), thoracic surgery ($475,708), ad dermatology ($465,543).

Nicholas Perricone, a dermatologist with a revered following, made $18.6 million last year. Plastic surgeons, who average a median pay of $264,000, don’t make the cut but there are many plastic surgeons who get paid plenty. Garth Fisher, a California based plastic surgeon, made $5 million dollars last year. There’s a two-year wait to get an appointment at his Beverly Hills office.

4 Lawyers

"I was gambling in Havana/I took a little risk/Send lawyers, guns and money/Dad, get me out of this" - Warren Zevon, Lawyers, Guns and Money

Lawyers are big time money makers. Not for everyone though. The median income for all lawyers is $113,530 a year or $54.58 an hour. There’s roughly 774,794 lawyers working in America. The highest paid lawyer in the U.S. is Joe Jamail, frequently referred to as the King of Torts, with an estimated worth of $1.5 billion dollars. Another lawyer who is incredibly wealthy is Willie Gary, who makes $13,000,000 and has a net worth of 100 million. Yet another is Roy Black who’s currently aiding Justin Bieber in his legal troubles. His net worth is $65 million. Another profession under law is being a Judge. And who’s the most famous Judge in America? None other than Judge Judy. Judith Sheindlin has an annual salary of $45 million dollars a year and her estimated net worth is around $150 million. Lawyers get paid.

3 Politicians & Lobbyists

Money drives politics. In terms of an average salary, politicians don’t get paid more than athletes. Members of the US House of Representatives received an annual salary of $174,000 in 2009. Majority and minority leaders of the Senate made $193,400, while the speaker of the house made $223,500. The President of the U.S. makes $400,000. So salary wise, on average it’s not high. But taking into account the level of power that politicians can amass with money, one would have to figure that into the equation. Michael Bloomberg, has a net worth of $31 million. The money isn’t from politics but the money helped him become a politician. What is money but power?

As for lobbyists, when a Congressman becomes one, he receives a 1,452% raise. Former Congressman Billy Tauzin made $19,359,927 as a lobbyist for pharmaceutical companies between 2006 and 2010. Former Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) makes approximately $1.5 million a year as the chief lobbyist for the movie industry.

2 Hedge fund Managers

A hedge fund manager is a person who oversees and makes decisions about the investments in a hedge fund. Hedge fund managers now make up 7% of the top 1 percent. There are 24 managers on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest individuals. The cost of entry to the Forbes 400 is $1.3 billion. The richest hedge fund manager is George Soros for his firm Soros Fund Management, Ray Dolio has a net worth of $12.5 billion for for Bridgewater Associates and the last of the 24 managers is Nelson Peltz with an estimated worth of $1.2 billion. If you know how to invest why not go for it. It’s the quickest way to get insanely rich, insanely fast.

1 Business Executives

The big bosses. But like all things in life, there are small bosses and there are huge ones. The average median income of a CEO is $760,239. But when it comes to the Top 1 percent, no other occupation can compete in terms of ceiling. The richest man in America is Warren Buffett. He is the CEO for his company Berkshire Hathaway. In terms of salaried executives, John Hammergren gets paid $131.2 million for McKesson, a pharmaceutical company. Ralph Lauren earns a salary of $66.7 million a year for his company Polo Ralph Lauren. Robert Iger gets $53.3 working for Disney. Michael Watford works for an oil company (UPL) and gets compensated $43.7 million.

That's a lot of money. Let’s all dream. And if you become a CEO, after a life of dreaming to become an athlete, you can just buy yourself a team.

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