“Panthers’ Russell Okung Becomes First NFL Player to Be Paid in Bitcoin,” the headline proclaimed — and soon, ones just like it started sprouting up across the web, with sports publications, tech publications, and mainstream media outlets alike jumping to tell how the Carolina Panthers offensive lineman finally fulfilled his spoken desire to get paid in cryptocurrency.
Unfortunately, the headline isn’t true. “Not accurate,” an NFL spokesperson tells me, adding that “his people are converting some of the money into bitcoin” after he gets paid in US dollars, just like every other NFL player.
Okung’s own team, the Carolina Panthers, also confirmed to The Verge that teams pay their players in US dollars.
By that standard, anyone can get their salary “paid in bitcoin” anytime they want: just go buy some bitcoin with your salary after it arrives, which is probably what the company that Okung is pumping — Zap — is hoping you’ll do when you see he’s repping it online.
It’s not clear why Okung chose this particular startup to convert his paycheck (it does accept direct deposit), or why he’s tweeted fourteen times this afternoon encouraging his followers to hop on board the bitcoin and Zap train.
He doesn’t disclose any kind of relationship with Zap on Twitter, although Zap founder Jack Mallers does call him a “friend.” (Mallers didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.)
But even if Okung doesn’t have a deal of some sort with Zap, he would have some financial incentive simply by being a bitcoin investor — the more people get excited enough to buy gobs of bitcoin, the higher the price and the more his stake is worth. (Okung converted half of his $13 million salary to bitcoin, according to the Coindesk report.)
To generate that kind of excitement, it helps to have headlines like “First NFL player to be paid in Bitcoin” spread around the web. It certainly sounds more intriguing than “NFL player decides to spend 50 percent of his salary on Bitcoin,” right? It’ll be interesting to see if any of those headlines change overnight.