Fact Check: Was NFL Player Russell Okung Paid In Bitcoin?

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Written by Ann Brown
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Fact Check: Was NFL Player Russell Okung Paid In Bitcoin? Photo: Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Russell Okung (76) works against the Atlanta Falcons during the second half of an NFL football game, Oct. 11, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Companies, especially some involved in cryptocurrencies, are increasingly offering employees the option of having their salaries paid in bitcoin. But did Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Russell Okung become the first NFL player to be paid in bitcoin?

Major media outlets including USA Today and CBS Sports reported last week that Okung is being paid in bitcoin. The Panthers offensive tackle will have half his $13 million yearly salary paid in bitcoin, according to Yahoo Finance.

“Not accurate,” an NFL spokesperson told The Verge. While Okung’s “people are converting some of the money into bitcoin,” he gets paid in U.S. dollars, just like every other NFL player, the spokesperson said.

Okung tweeted that he was “Paid in Bitcoin,” according to a Dec. 29, 2020 post.

CBS Sports reported that Okung’s cryptocurrency salary was set up via Zap, a bitcoin app. Zap’s Strike product is going to take Okung’s paychecks and convert them into bitcoin.

Zap founder, Jack Mallers, told CoinDesk that Okung’s yearly salary is being split 50-50 between bitcoin and fiat. Fiat money is an established currency such as the U.S. dollar.

So technically, Okung is still being paid in fiat, CoinDesk reported. The NFL will not be paying him directly in bitcoin. After he’s paid in dollars, Zap will convert half his salary to bitcoin.

Okung has been pushing for a while to have his salary paid in bitcoin. In May of 2019, Okung tweeted his desire to be paid in bitcoin. 

“Money is more than currency; it’s power,” Okung recently said in a statement. “The way money is handled from creation to dissemination is part of that power. Getting paid in Bitcoin is the 1st step of opting out of the corrupt, manipulated economy we all inhabit.”

In a recent CoinDesk op-ed, the 32-year-old Okung said he has been looking for ways that professional athletes — particularly Black athletes — can gain more economic power. Okung said he sees bitcoin as a means of regaining financial independence and he has launched an advocacy project to that end.

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The Strike product will receive a direct deposit from the Panthers. The dollar amount will be changed into bitcoin and then given to Okung.

Other professional athletes have been involved in cryptocurrency. Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie of the NBA and unnamed New York Yankees baseball players have received their salaries in bitcoin, according to Yahoo.

Okung becomes a free agent in the offseason, The Source reported.