Somewhere in America, a young NY Jets fan is thrilled because this year, his team is being featured on HBO’s annual preseason documentary, Hard Knocks. The Jets surprised everyone last year with a strong run in the playoffs and come into this season with soaring expectations. The whole atmosphere is electric, and the competition is fierce. Still, the kid watching just can’t understand why on Earth their Pro Bowl cornerback and 2010 holdout, Darrelle Revis, hasn’t shown up to camp.
When he asks, his father will have to reply, “Well, son. Every year, some jackass sheds every hint of honor from his arrogant, shameless existence and decides to renege on a contract he had signed, which allowed him to wear a team’s uniform onto their field and carry with it the hopes and dreams of 51 other players, a bunch of coaches and millions of fans. He does this in the name of the almighty dollar, which transcends not only the sport but any legally binding documents associated with it.” It’s a frustrating situation and a gruesome reminder to kids that grown-up life sucks.
It is often a beloved player, too, someone who has exceeded expectations and now wants money for trying hard. Fans are usually shocked and feel betrayed that such a player would do this, but in the locker room it is generally an accepted practice. For the most part, these decisions are respected by peers who understand that it is the love of money, not the passion for the game that is truly important.
The theory is that NFL contracts are not guaranteed. So, if a team can rip up a deal when the player under-performs, why can’t he do the same? It makes sense to the businessmen in the league, who view this time as nothing more than their window of opportunity to build a strong financial portfolio for life. For others though, staying home is not such an easy decision. The rookie free agents, for example, will chew through rope just to land a spot on the practice squad, earning nothing more than per diem and a free helmet.
The drive, the passion, and everything else that makes a sport competitive is present in every athlete at all levels until they reach the top. As soon as salaries hit the millions, it suddenly becomes too little. Greed takes over, and then it’s no longer about the game or the team. It’s about the green.
The solution is simple. Take away the money. Set a salary cap per player, around $100,000 per year. Of course, hard work and talent should be rewarded. In fact, if a player was coming off a great year, a raise as high as 20% should be expected! This exciting and competitive career opportunity should be explored only by the most passionate candidates.
If you aren’t interested in earning about $100K each year for as long as you can be effective playing a sport you love, traveling around like a rock star, with plenty of opportunities available when you retire, provided you carried yourself well, then don’t play ball. Do you really believe there will be no desire or interest in a sport if the superstars were not put in a different stratosphere than the rest of the league on payday? In other words, does money buy the talent? Do salary figures determine the level of play?
If anything, money corrupts talent and alters one’s motives. I think we will find that when the ultimate goal is to win, and the currency is team spirit and pride, the product will grow exponentially. Not only will the social divide be lifted in the locker room, but the profits saved on enormous salaries will be available for stadium renovations, quality coaching staffs, and practice facilities, while of course, lowering ticket prices.
It is only this year that I take special notice, as the NY Jets are not only the focus of HBO’s series, Hard Knocks, but for the first time ever were my objective pick to win the Super Bowl. That is, of course, with this year’s holdout, Darrelle Revis, on the field.
How he can watch that documentary, which follows the squad through the rigors of training camp where team chemistry is formed and seeds of the sweet fruit are planted, without showing up early the next morning to run laps is beyond me, beyond many of his teammates, and before the success, was probably beyond a young Darrelle.
“Trust me, son. He will regret doing that later in life. They almost always do.”