What Bitcoin Means for Athletes Like Me

To Russell Okung, the Los Angeles Chargers' left tackle, bitcoin means economic sovereignty and self-empowerment.

AccessTimeIconDec 17, 2019 at 12:00 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 13, 2021 at 11:50 a.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconDec 17, 2019 at 12:00 p.m. UTCUpdated Sep 13, 2021 at 11:50 a.m. UTC
AccessTimeIconDec 17, 2019 at 12:00 p.m. UTCUpdated Sep 13, 2021 at 11:50 a.m. UTC

This post is part of CoinDesk's 2019 Year in Review, a collection of 100 op-eds, interviews and takes on the state of blockchain and the world. Russell Okung, "The Bitcoin Cleats Guy," is a philanthropist, entrepreneur, social activist and Super Bowl champion left tackle with the Los Angeles Chargers. Okung is a passionate advocate of bitcoin and blockchain technology and the founder of BitcoinIs_.

I’ve recently become the “bitcoin guy” in the locker room, complete with both ridicule and intrigue. My teammates are understandably curious about why I’m suddenly so into this “magic internet money” called bitcoin. The truth is, long before I tweeted “Pay Me in Bitcoin,” I’d become increasingly exhausted by constant struggle, endless conflict and the frequent absence of hope. 

These days, I’m more interested in finding a solution that can be immediately implemented without first gaining permission, or proving my abilities (again), or articulating the worthiness of my peers to skeptics. As leaders, we have so much more to offer society than a few hours of weekly entertainment. I am hungry for long term, sustainable solutions that can demonstrate that our economic power is not only real, but vastly undervalued and overlooked. 

Bitcoin is that solution. Allow me to provide some background on this and then I’ll explain why I believe so strongly in bitcoin. 

By this point in my professional football career, I’ve learned that economic power isn’t as straightforward as simply having money. Optics and circumstances often dictate how economic power is understood and how it’s wielded. For instance, winning the lottery may put $100 million in your bank account, but it doesn’t suddenly make you a financial expert. Similarly, being born into wealth may give you unearned financial freedom, but your peers will be skeptical of that wealth until you demonstrate an aptitude to steward it properly. 

I am puzzled when the financial circumstances of professional athletes, especially black athletes, are viewed with optics similar to the lottery winner or the silver-spooner. It’s confusing when our economic power isn’t more naturally compared to the traditional entrepreneur who demonstrated the same gumption and exerted similar energy in their own field with dedication, sacrifice, long hours and a hyper-focus on the end-goal. 

Bitcoin is a direct threat to that economic power. In fact, one of the main reasons that bitcoin hasn’t fully captured the mainstream consciousness is because it’s a direct threat to the current order. In other words, those who currently sit at the top of the socioeconomic hierarchy of our world are not incentivized by the inevitable success of bitcoin. Conversely, there are many who will see their fortunes significantly reduced as global economic turmoil continues to escalate, the dollar continues to weaken, and inflation reaches levels not previously imagined.

I’m playing my role in raising awareness, shamelessly encouraging professional athletes to embrace bitcoin

Bitcoin is one of the few financial assets that offers sanctuary from a global recession, when it arrives. Financial advisor isn’t recommending bitcoin because they don’t make money by selling it to clients. The mainstream talking heads don’t mention it because it threatens their cushy industry. But we are on the precipice of something truly unique with the invention and success of bitcoin. I’m playing my role in raising awareness, shamelessly encouraging professional athletes to embrace bitcoin, and evangelizing to a mainstream audience about the opportunity we have to capture undeniable economic power. 

Bitcoin is like digital gold. No one entity owns it or controls it. It is a scarce asset, which means there will only ever be 21 million bitcoins in existence. It has a proven 11-year track record that is unmatched by any Silicon Valley unicorn. Bitcoin is undermining the status quo of intermediaries: no more banks, no more money managers, no more governments telling you what you can and can’t do with your money. For me, it means sending money to a relative in Nigeria without asking for approval from anyone else. Imagine an economy that doesn’t require you to share all your personal details before making a purchase. Imagine a retirement plan that isn’t built on a foundation that is “too big to fail.” 

Professional athletes committed themselves to becoming elite workers in their industry, investing significant human capital to earn their place in society. Bitcoin offers a way to protect that hard earned capital from the whims of central bankers who keep printing more money to bail out their friends on Wall Street. It is time for us to embrace our economic sovereignty by allocating at least 5% of our wealth into bitcoin. I’m personally much more invested in the asset, but my goal here is to simply get you off of zero. Of course, I want to see the price go up, but I gain nothing else by trying to make you a believer. I just think it is important to let you know now, so you don’t blame me down the line when the price skyrockets and the global recession is no longer deniable.

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