There is definitely an unsettling emotion that some people feel when it comes to professional athletes getting paid much more impressive salaries than soldiers. This negative emotion is part of a broader discussion: entertainment verses non-entertainment. Professionals in the entertainment industry (i.e. athletes, actors, singers, producers, etc.) are earning salaries in the millions while people working in careers that some in society deem as "necessary" or "more important" (i.e. soldiers, teachers, police officers, firefighters, etc.) are earning much lower salaries. The briefest and easiest answer is economics.
In analyzing the entertainment industry, one will see a pattern of "money in, money out." How high a professional's salary is in the entertainment industry is directly correlated to their ability to impact consumers. Movies, albums and athletic events are built on consumerism. People spend money on movie tickets, music downloads, game tickets, concession stands and merchandise. An actor's five million dollar salary for a film role is directly correlated to the production studio's expectations of that actor's name drawing in large box office ticket sales. Likewise, a professional athlete is paid an impressive salary with the expectation that they will be a positive factor in their team winning games and bringing loyal consumers to the stadiums.
The military is not based on these same economic standards. The military is not financially supported through consumers. It is funded by the government for reasons of national security and protection. Because the economic notion of "money in, money out" is not applied to the military, soldiers are not able to be paid the same salary levels as professionals in the entertainment industry.
For this reason, this debate will continue for years to come.
The fact that athletes are paid much more than soldiers is very troubling to some people. There is no doubt that without the soldiers and everything for which they fight, there would be no sports or highly paid athletes. There are a few ways to look at why this is occurring.
One way to look at this issue is from an economic standpoint. There is a very limited number of highly skilled professional athletes. Thus, the supply of these skilled athletes is low. However, the demand for these athletes is very high. When demand is greater than supply, prices rise. In this case, because there is a limited supply of professional athletes and a high demand for them, their salaries are very high. The same is not true for soldiers. The supply is not as out of balance with the demand for them. As a result, their salaries are lower.
Another aspect that applies in this situation is what the priorities of our society are. We have always valued winning sports teams. Society has determined that sports are very important to our society. As a result, consumers are willing to pay the high ticket prices to watch these athletes play. If the public wouldn’t buy these tickets or value sports as much, the demand for professional athletes would drop, as would their salaries. Soldiers, while very important to us, are not valued in the same way. Many people feel our priorities are out of whack because of the scenario you have presented.