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Carolina Panthers' Russell Okung claims to be first NFL player "paid in bitcoin"

Carolina Panthers offensive lineman Russell Okung claimed 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. 

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

The venture was made possible through Onkung's partnership with Strike, which was founded by Bitcoin startup Zap CEO Jack Mallers. 

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.

However, it's still unclear how Okung is actually getting paid. 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. 

CBS News reached out to both the NFL and the Panthers for further comment on Wednesday, but did not immediately respond. 

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."

Mallers praised his 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."

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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