A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
THE WEEK THAT WAS
NEW YORK, NY — Wow, what an interesting stretch of days in the world of sports.
In a little more than a week we’ve witnessed some events that when lumped together scream out for analysis and clarity.
Now, I am by no means proclaiming myself omniscient, but if you’ll allow me I’ll just give you my opinion with the awareness that it and two dollars will get you a ride on New York City’s mass transit system.
For me it all started in the National Football League when the Tennessee Titans, faced with major salary cap issues, severed ties with the franchise’s all-time leading rusher Eddie George.
At face value that news is certainly not unique or earth shattering, since to the best of my knowledge George wasn’t facing the possibility of being homeless or wondering where his next meal would come from.
Better yet a month earlier he’d just proposed to Sisters With Voices singer Tamara “Taj” Johnson on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Don’t fret too long for Eddie on the career side either.
Just two days after the breakup the 1995 Heisman Trophy winner, from The Ohio State University, signed on with the Dallas Cowboys for $2 million.
However, what shouldn’t be missed is that as a result of the weak bargaining position of the NFL players union its rank and file gets treated like meat, and then discarded like last week’s Sunday paper.
Honestly, there really is no other conclusion I can come up with.
The current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) gives the players free agency, while the owners get a hard salary cap or cost certainty when it comes to player salaries.
From my vantage point players have always had freedom of movement (albeit involuntary), because at any moment they can be cut from their current team and thereby render the contract null and void since there are no guaranteed player-team money agreements in the NFL.
Over the last few years we’ve noticed a number of large signing bonuses added to “contracts” when luring “free agents” or signing rookies.
This circumvention of the cap was made popular by teams like the San Francisco 49′ers and Dallas Cowboys of the mid to late 1990′s, and has gotten a bit outrageous with the efforts of Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder of late.
This season’s salary cap figure is just over $80 million.
The figure has more than doubled since the hard cap was first implemented in 1994.
To date the NFL is the only major professional league that uses this system of cost assurance.
As far as Eddie George is concerned his 8-year career with the Titans franchise was exemplary both on and off the field.
From the minute he arrived he carried the football.
In his first seven seasons George was always among the top ball carriers in the league.
In fact, during the 2000 season he won the dubious award (I say dubious because that increases the number of hits one takes) with 403, the fourth most in the history of the game.
He never missed a contest, playing in all 128 by the Oilers/Titans franchise since his appearance.
Unfortunately, the wear and tear on his 6′-3”, 235-pound frame took a toll as the years went on.
Never known for blinding speed George repeatedly relied on his strength and peerless conditioning to gain yards, but with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, and countless others, keying on the sometimes predictable game plan of the Titans his yards per carry average suffered while the number of nagging injuries increased.
Suddenly management came to the realization that they’d had enough of Eddie George.
Instead of letting second-year back Chris Brown carry some of the burden they low-balled him and used the salary cap as a convenient excuse.
Then again the NFLPA, and Executive Director Gene Upshaw, gave them little choice.
In a league where rules are made to protect quarterbacks from getting hit “too hard”, running backs are left to fend for self while 11 others (ranging from 390 pounds to 220) aggressively gang tackle them.
It’s no shock that most of their careers last as long as a presidential term, and those that are lucky enough to last longer all too often see it end due to injury.
Remember former Denver Broncos tailback Terrell Davis?
He was a key component to their back-to-back Super Bowl titles, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and if his career lasted longer a sure hall of famer, but a degenerative knee condition forced his retirement at age 29.
Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen to the newest running back for the Dallas Cowboys.
Now, again I insist that I am not asking anyone to go overboard with empathy for George or any of his peers at the position or in the game, but the news of the second major story in the last week or so certainly makes one wonder.
Two days after George signed on with Bill Parcells, Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams pulled a Jim Brown, Barry Sanders and a Robert Smith.
The 1998 Heisman Trophy winner informed his former club that he no longer had the passion to play the game and retired.
I’ll save you the details about his three failed drug tests and marijuana smoking, because in my eyes the weed smoking is another contradiction when compared with the harm alcohol does to its abusers and those unlucky enough to be on the road with one.
Still, the relevant point of this presentation is that another talented running back left the game early.
Much like George, Williams saw his rushing attempts increase dramatically in an offense that was determined to force him down the throats of the opposition by hook or by crook.
Just last year he carried the ball 392 times with a career high 42 in week three against Buffalo, and from all indications this season would continue the status quo.
So at age 27 Ricky Williams decided he wanted more out of life while he could still walk without a limp.
The nerve of him!
Isn’t it the American Dream to save your pennies and leave your job on your own terms?
Especially when that job could adversely affect your health for the remainder of one’s life.
Moreover, Ricky left $6 million on the table from this year’s contract as well as endorsements, and was a frequent contributor to charitable causes via his foundation.
You may recall that back in 1999 he shocked the world of sports agents by signing with rapper Master P and his fledgling No Limit enterprise.
That one move showed the kind of insight that is needed in various levels of business where we deal with one another, and even though the contract was flawed Ricky didn’t criticize agent Leland Hardy.
When I interviewed him after a game against the New York Giants he took complete blame for how things went.
“I take full responsibility for the contract,” Williams said.
“Sometimes the agents get blamed for contracts.Leland did exactly what I told him to do.”
Sadly, that feel good story leads us to Mike Tyson’s recent loss.
Someone named Danny Williams floored the once Iron Mike in Louisville, Kentucky just six days after the revelation from Ricky.
Boxing, just like football, is one of the most violent sports out there.
Suffice it to say that Tyson’s act has worn thin, but the humane side of me cries for how we’ve all watched his self-destruction like drivers on the highway unable to proceed because of a burning car on the shoulder.
However, after all of the blame dished out to Don King et al it still comes down to Mike.
For after the lavish homes, cars and other forms of conspicuous consumption he’s now a 38-year old man with no other options but boxing to pay off his huge debts.
Perhaps while Ricky Williams goes on trying to find himself maybe he can take Mike with him.