Carolina Panthers’ Russell Okung First-Ever NFL Player to Be Paid in Bitcoin

by Suzanne Halliburton

Russell Okung tweeted last year his demand — pay him in bitcoin. The Carolina Panther offensive tackle said he was part of the cryptocurrency “revolution.”

Finally, the Panthers granted the wishes of their big lineman. The Panthers paid Okung in bitcoin. A number of NFL players trade the online currency. So will bitcoin salaries become a trend in the country’s pro sports league?

On Tuesday, Okung found one of his old bitcoin tweets from 2019. He retweeted it, adding “Paid in Bitcoin.”

What Exactly Is Russell Okung Talking About?

First, what is bitcoin? It’s a computer file that’s kept in a digital wallet app on your smart phone, laptop or iPad. People can send a Bitcoin or parts of one to each other. All transactions are recorded in a public list called the blockchain.

People like Russell Okung trade bitcoin on exchanges. It’s like when traders buy or sell gold or silver or bet on the world’s currencies. Some of the most commonly used exchanges include Coinbase, Kraken, Gemini, and Binance U.S., according to Investopedia.

In trading Tuesday, one bitcoin was worth $26,344.80.

Meanwhile, Okung’s paycheck just happens to be quite large. The Panthers will split his $13 million 50-50 between bitcoin and American dollars, Spotrac. Zap, the bitcoin startup founded by Jack Mallers, made the arrangement with the Panthers. Zap’s Strike product converts traditional paychecks into bitcoins.

Russell Okung Known As ‘Bitcoin Cleats Guy’

The cerebral Okung, who grew up in Houston and graduated from Oklahoma State, describes himself as a philanthropist, entrepreneur and social activist. He’s also a leader in the NFL, serving on the executive committee of the NFLPA. The tackles also goes by the name “Bitcoin Cleats Guy.”

This time a year ago, Okung published an op-ed for Okung wrote:

“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.”

Other NFL Players Interested In Bitcoin

Okung isn’t the only NFL player who supports the idea of a bitcoin salary. Buffalo Bills quarterback Matt Barkley asked some of his former teams for a bitcoin pay check last year. San Francisco and Cincinnati rejected the idea.

Barkley said he even “mined” for bitcoin. That showed other bitcoin traders he was legit, with skin in the game. Basically, that means he’s helping to audit other bitcoin transaction. The reward is more bitcoins. But it’s much more difficult than it sounds. You need super powerful computers.