Saturday, July 23, 2005

Holding Out

Holding out is the latest craze in the NFL. For those not in tune with pro football, I will lay some groundwork.

In the NFL (National Football League) players sign contracts to play for a certain team. I will use a real life example. Terrell Owens last year signed a contract to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. The term of the contract was for seven years and the amount of the contract was for $49 million. Yes, $49 million. The contract does not pay him $7 million per year, rather is "backloaded". In other words, he earns only (only!) $3.2 million this year and more and more the subsequent years. However, Mr. Owens all of a sudden feels he is worth more NOW. So he has notified the team that he had decided not to attend training camp or play any games until his contract is re-negotiated or re-structured.

Here is another real world example. Javon Walker, star receiver for the Green Bay Packers, is slated to earn $515,000 this year (the last year of his current contract). However, last year he was stellar and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl. Walker and his agent have decided that he is worth more NOW and have taken the same tack as Mr. Owens.

Here is one last example. This year in the draft the Bears selected Cedric Benson as their number one pick. He and his agent have not yet agreed to terms with the Bears and are threatening a holdout. This from a man who has not played one down of professional football in his life.

The practice of holding out is becoming very commonplace in the NFL and I have a few thoughts about it.

Of course, in the real world none of this would be happening. When you sign a contract with a person or business, it is a legally binding document for both parties. If you decide to "holdout" from going to work one day you are fired. If you fail on your end of a contract, like a credit card for instance, you can be forced into bankruptcy or sued by the offended party. But the NFL doesn't seem to be the real world. Contracts are just weird pieces of paper with strange looking numbers on them, meant every year to be discussed, altered or deleted. The owners let themselves get pushed around by the players union and the agents. On the other hand, if the agents and players know that the owners will cave in, more power to them!

So where does this leave the fans? As usual, out in the cold. Not many friends that I have really have a lot of sorrow for crybaby football players who can't seem to get up in the morning for a measly $3.2 million or $515,000 per year. But I have no sympathy for a bunch of spineless team owners who won't just once tell the contract breaking players to pound sand. I mean, how easy would it be for the team to just cut the guy for violating his contract or let him hold out for the whole year and not get paid?

Pro sports in general has become such a mess. But you know what, we keep watching and going to games. What other business could have so much negative publicity and still make so much money?

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