/Russell Okung’s bitcoin salary could trigger more pro athletes to invest
Russell Okung's bitcoin salary could trigger more pro athletes to invest

Russell Okung’s bitcoin salary could trigger more pro athletes to invest

Russell Okung #76 of the Carolina Panthers

Grant Halverson | Getty Images

It’s often referred to as a new form of gold, and now Carolina Panthers offensive linemen Russell Okung is making a massive bet on bitcoin.

After a nearly two-year battle, Okung finally had his wish granted and will have his salary diverted to purchasing bitcoin with the assistance of mobile payment firm Strike. The National Football League and its players’ union approved the agreement that allows the Panthers to pay part of Okung’s $13 million salary to Strike so it can be converted to bitcoin.

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

To be clear, the Panthers are not paying Okung directly in bitcoin. Instead, the team will divert roughly $6.5 million from Okung’s salary to the Strike, which will then presumably take a fee and process bitcoin transactions for Okung, a longtime advocate of the currency.

Strike did not respond to a CNBC request to confirm the transaction fees associated with Okung’s agreement.

Bitcoin is trading at more than $27,000, so Okung will receive approximately 240 coins at that value. Since his playing days with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2019, Okung lobbied to have his salary replaced with bitcoin.

“He’s hoping long-term that the price of bitcoin is going up,” Chris Matta, co-founder of Crescent Crypto Asset Management, told CNBC on Tuesday. “And this move is a show of his support and long-term bullishness for bitcoin growing even more from here.”

It’s like gold, but it’s not gold

Bitcoin was introduced in 2008 and last year produced fortunes for some when a single bitcoin surged from under $1,000 to nearly $20,000. That sparked a bull market in new crypto-based funds.

Bitcoin has since gained popularity with Covid-19 disrupting economies as investors look for safekeeping during the pandemic. For decades, gold was the usual safety net for investors, but Matta said bitcoin is now viewed as an alternative.

“It’s become hugely attractive as a hard asset, especially during Covid-19 and all the consumer concerns about the global economy and geopolitical environment,” Matta said, referencing billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones’ comments to invest more in bitcoin.

“The new digital gold, as it’s called,” Matta added. “It’s brought bitcoin to the forefront of investment portfolios this year, and there is a ton of interest around it as a result.”

Matta said Okung’s bitcoin would likely be placed in offline digital wallets referred to as “cold storage.” The move gives Okung more protection from potential hackers looking to steal the currency from his account. Bitcoin accounts aren’t protected like bank accounts, which are FDIC-insured.

“Keeping it offline is a much safer way, especially for someone like Russ who is outspoken about bitcoin,” Matta said. “Anyone who is vocal in the bitcoin space is a target for cyber-hacking.”

Russell Okung #76 of the Los Angeles Chargers heads off the field following the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on November 4, 2018 in Seattle, Washington.

Otto Greule Jr | Getty Images

Risky move?

Are more athletes going bitcoin?

Strike is also coordinating more arrangements emulating Okung’s with players from the Brooklyn Nets and New York Yankees, according to bitcoin news site CoinDesk. The site did not name the players involved.

Matta said Okung’s move would provide more credibility for bitcoin, and that could trigger even more athletes to invest in digital currencies. Potential investors can also purchase bitcoin through other mobile payment apps, including PayPal, Cash App, and Square.

“Covid-19 hyper-charged the growth of bitcoin,” Matta said. “I think this would’ve happened to bitcoin anyway; it just may have taken a few more years to get to this point.”

–CNBC’s Hugh Son contributed to this report.