Carolina Panthers’ Russell Okung is first NFL player ever to be paid in bitcoin


Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Russell Okung claims to be the first NFL player who will be paid in bitcoin, according to an announcement Tuesday from Okung and Strike, a mobile payments company. They said Okung will receive half of his $13 million salary in Bitcoin. 

The venture was made possible through Onkung’s partnership with Strike, which was founded by Bitcoin startup Zap CEO Jack Mallers. He praised Okung’s decision on Twitter.

“Russel is a leader,” Mallers tweeted. “Getting #Bitcoin in exchange for your labor is much more than meets the eye. He is setting that example on a big stage.”

Coindesk, a news website specializing in digital currencies, said Okung would still be paid in government-issued currency but Strike will receive the direct deposit from the Panthers and then convert the dollars into Bitcoin. The money is then held in Okung’s cold storage wallet – a form of a digital wallet that is not connected to the internet and protects users from potential hacking.

Last year, Okung tweeted: “Pay me in Bitcoin.” On Tuesday, he quote-tweeted himself, saying: “Paid in Bitcoin.”

Anonymous officials with both the NFL and the Panthers took issue with Okung’s and Zap’s characterization of the arrangement, stressing to The Verge that the player was still being paid in U.S. dollars, like every other NFL player, and that he was merely converting some of his salary into cryptocurrency after the fact. 

Over the last two seasons, the two-time Pro Bowler attempted to get his former team, the Los Angeles Chargers and his current team to pay his salary in Bitcoin, the announcement said.

“Money is more than currency; it’s power,” Okung, 32, 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.”

Russell Okung
Russell Okung of the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on August 24, 2020, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Grant Halverson/Getty

Bitcoin’s value has reached record highs as of late. On December 16, the value of a Bitcoin broke $20,000 for the first time and went on to surpass $26,000 on December 26. 

Like other instruments used to store value in times of uncertainty, Bitcoin has benefited from the coronavirus pandemic that has pushed other commodities like gold, silver, platinum to multiyear highs. But prices for Bitcoin and other new cryptocurrencies have been far more volatile than prices for traditional commodities historically have been.

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