The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

MAY  2009

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.







Why They Did It, Part II

By Jerry Keys

Before the players unions came about in the 1970's, most players from the four major sports looked for part-time jobs during the off-season. Their sports salaries were not enough to tide them over until the next season. Up until the 1970's, each sport held some type of reserve clause.

A reserve clause meant the team that drafted a player owned the rights to him virtually for his entire career. The owners could offer the player whatever they wished and if the player refused to sign the contract, he did not play, was not paid, and was not allowed to shop his services to other teams. No player ever received a multi-year contract because the reserve clause negated any reason to.

As players unions formed, anti-trust lawsuits were filed and eventually won. A player could then shop his services to any team after he reached free agency. This led to a sharp increase in salaries over the upcoming years. Players unions also pushed for a pension plan for players who were already retired and for themselves after retirement.

Jerry Keys

The NFL players union had stout words for their then executive director (now deceased) Gene Upshaw. The players felt the retirees were not getting enough money to pay their hospital bills (many a direct result of football-related injuries which continued to hamper them after their playing days were over). Many owners lamented the players were paid extremely well and should have invested a portion of their salaries to be able to cover health costs.

An additional complaint from the retired players was too many rookies were signing contracts guaranteeing them more money than superstars a generation ago made in a lifetime. Owners felt if a player made millions of dollars on the field; it is not their responsibility if the player spends it all during their career. They considered it simply poor money management. Players wanted lucrative contracts and rich pensions, whereas the owners only felt committed to the player during their careers.

Players entering professional sports today usually have about ten years of prep already in place by the time they are drafted. It has been noted by some players they have spent those ten years plus five more after being drafted, "grooming themselves" for the lucrative free agent payday. Most owners feel the players are overpaid but do not hesitate to raise ticket and memorabilia prices at the drop of a hat. All in all, it comes down to money.
University of Georgia QB Matt Stafford is a junior but began developing his skills at the QB position a decade ago. He has skipped social functions, parties, and friendships all to be the best at his position. He is considered a lock to be the #1 pick in the 2009 NFL draft and will receive a contract similar to 2008 draft pick #3 Matt Ryan. Ryan inked a six year, $72 million contract, with $34 million guaranteed.

These players are blessed with a special gift. But what about the players drafted in the last two rounds or not drafted at all. In the NFL, a team may head into summer workouts with six wide receivers. They usually sign three or four additional ones who were not drafted. These players are guaranteed little or no money to sign. They are signed at a low-rent rate due to saving money to sign marquee free agents or retaining star players.

Some teams offer the spots just to fill up the practice squad and training camp roster; whereas other teams who offer no guaranteed money do offer an opportunity to make the team as a back-up or a practice squad spot. Former running back Priest Holmes was offered a small signing bonus from several teams to be one of these two but was also offered only a spot and an opportunity by the Baltimore Ravens about ten years ago. Holmes took the opportunity and it paid off years down the road.

Similar to the situation in baseball, what about the fringe players who were undrafted and invited to camp for just an opportunity? The deck is already stacked against them. How can these players attempt to even the playing field? They can work out more and practice for longer hours but sometimes that just is not enough to reach their dreams. The NFL was the first sport to crack down on steroid use over two decades ago. It took the deaths of a couple of superstars to shed light on the subject.

We hear more about steroid use of superstars just because they are superstars. The majority of players who do use are marginal players who are struggling for a starting position or a back-up spot.

As fans we do not tend to lend any sympathy to the players who use when they should not have to. We do feel a bit remorseful for the ones who turn to using to attempt to stay in the game-until we see the salaries they earn.

As an average Joe fan, I can understand the competitive side that takes over and makes these players desperate to stay in the big leagues. Most of these players make about 10% of what the superstars do. But then I see what they are making…10-20 times what I earn. Do our sympathies end when the paychecks are shown? An overwhelming majority of players drafted from high school or college know of only one paycheck… from baseball. Players who fall from one or two million a year to 40 or 50 thousand, face some trident cost-cutting decisions.

Everyone wants to say money would never change us or that money would never lead us to make improper decisions. In a utopian society that can be said but those have been attempted and failed numerous times. Whether it is competition or monetary gain, the base result is money. Most of us feel the amount of money we make is a mirror image of who we are. In a capitalist society, we are indoctrinated by it at young age.

Money does bring forth security but does not bring happiness. As many times as Bon Jovi wants to say love can pay the rent, it does not. Maybe it all comes down to pride. How many of us wanted to have the highest score on a math test in third grade? How many of us wanted the lowest score?

We all want to be the person we want to be but sometimes salaries seem to get in the way.