City Sports Report

When the Athletes Exercise Their Muscle By Marc “Razz” Rasbury

Traditionally athletes have been held at the mercy of their respective organizations. I know to some that may sound crazy especially, when some of the very people we are talking about sign seven-to-eight figure contracts. Read Bill Rhoden’s Forty Million Dollar Slaves for more insight on that. But the fact of the matter is that slowly, but surely, we are seeing the pendulum swing toward the athlete. I know plenty of you like myself did not like the way LeBron James and his classmates from the NBA Rookie class of 2003, along with Darrelle Revis, dominated the sports air waves this summer with their contract negotiations. Like it or not, their tactics, at least in the short term, worked. They may be vilified in some corners. They bucked tradition and got what they wanted in the end. Historically, the owners and the leagues had leverage over the players. Remember back in the day, Curt Flood and the Baseball’s Players Union had to take MLB all the way to the Supreme Court in order to give their members the right to explore free agency. Then there was the time Jim Brown, arguably the best to ever strap on a helmet, asked then Brown’s owner, Art Modell, for some extra time from training camp so that he can finish filming the movie, The Dirty Dozen. Model told him if he was not in camp on time that he would fine him. Brown responded with his announcing that he would retire effective immediately. Now these are two extreme situations but they did set the precedent for most of the rights that the modern athletes take for granted. Then you have the sentiment among owners and, even, some fans that these players should do what is in the best interest of the team. Folks frown when their favorite player has the audacity to have an interest that might take their focus from their sport. Look at the reaction folks had when the Williams Sisters wanted to pursue their dreams in fashion design. Some say that these folks make so much money already why should they worry about earning more away from the sport or setting themselves up for something once the playing days are over. These are the same people who laugh when they hear that an athlete has fallen on hard times once their careers are over. Hell, Donald Trump filed for bankruptcy twice and I believe JP Getty died broke. It can happen to anybody. Then you have those owners who act like these players are actually their property. Look at how the Cleveland Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert, reacted when James bolted for Miami. You would have thought James kidnapped his first born. The bottomline is that James did everything that the franchise could have ever asked for from that kid. He gave them seven great years where he carried that franchise on his back taking them to heights that very few could have done under those circumstances. He never had a legitimate second superstar and still took them to the playoffs including a NBA Final and another Conference Final. He earned the right to explore his options and I’m glad he did. You see the funny thing about this is that I kind of saw this coming back in 2004. I was in Los Angeles at NBA All-Star Weekend. James was there with some of his other classmates like Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire. They were there to mainly participate in the rookie challenge and they were just enjoying the atmosphere. They were not out running around like some of the other players. They all seemed to be just checking out the scene, not making the scene about them or drawing attention to themselves like many of the other players. Then when their rookie contracts were up and they did not collectively sign those long term “max” deals, I knew something was up and these guys where about to change the game. You see, the current NBA collective bargaining was written to make sure that superstars continue to sign with the organizations that drafted them. Even with free agency, the existing teams were able to sign the player in question to more money than any other club. The owners were banking on, no pun intended, the player’s greed would lead them to re-sign with their clubs. However, when James, Wade, Anthony, Stoudemire and Bosh only singed three year deals instead of the max six, you knew they were about to buck the trend. That set up the Summer of LeBron and all of the hysteria that went with it. Teams throughout the League dumped salaries to clear cap space to entice players to come to their way. Some, like the Knicks, even cleared space for two max contracts. What the owners did not expect was that Wade, James and Bosh would except even less money to play together. Moreover, they did not think that these guys would suppress their own egos to be willing to win a title and share “The Man” title in doing that. Everyone thought that LeBron wanted to be “The Man” and lead his team like Michael Jordan to the Promised Land. However, Pat Riley, being the Gangster Genius that he is, convinced James that he did not want to be like Mike but should be like Magic by being a distributor and, with Wade on the wing and Bosh down low, he could do just that without carrying a franchise on his back. Thus, Miami Thrice was born. Got to give it to Riley. That is why he will go down as one of the top executives/coaches in the history of sports. Then you have the situation with Revis and the Jets. The Jets had Revis under contract for three more years. However, the League’s best cornerback was only scheduled to make one million dollar for this upcoming campaign. Now I’m not going to start a love offering for someone scheduled to make a million dollars, especially, since I have been fighting with unemployment on and off for two years, but I can see where Revis was peeved. But then again, I can see the Jets’ point of view as well. They had renegotiated the talented CB contract before front loading it with his making about six million a year on two occasions and he was scheduled to make about ten million dollars in 2011 and 2012. GM Mike Tannabuam was smart because he slated Revis to make only one million this year because he knew he had to take care of Nick Mangold, David Harris and D’Brickashaw Ferguson this year. So Revis was thought to be taken care of in the past and once, they got Mangold, Harris and Ferguson squared away, they would revisit Revis for his long term deal. Well, after hearing that he was the best CB in the business for the past two years, Revis wanted to be compensated accordingly. When he did not get anywhere what he wanted, he sat out most of this season’s training camp. He was willing to sit out the entire season if he did not get what he wanted. The only problem was that the Jets were not willing to make him the highest paid defensive back due to the fact the Raiders are paying Nmandi Asomugha franchise quarterback money, approximately, 15 million per, to roam the defensive backfield. So we had this standoff all summer long. The Jets wanted to see if they could survive with rookie Kyle Wilson filling in for the disgruntled vet and Revis was hoping that it would become blatantly obvious that the Jets needed his services if it were going to be successful this season. The Jets stocked up this year bringing a bunch of seasoned future Hall-of-Fame caliber players to win it all this year. But, without Revis, those off-season investments would most likely not pan out. Without Revis Jets defense would be good (see the last two games). With Revis, the Jets defense has a chance to be great. See the playoff run last year and this squad is even better now with the addition of Jason Taylor and Antonio Cromartie. Luckily, the Jets and Revis came to a nice compromise. He did not get all of the money he wanted but he did not get locked into a long term deal either. Therefore, we will be in the same situation in three years. But, once again, a player exercised his leverage and was able to get what he wanted. I’m not mad at these guys. They are flexing their muscles and using the power that generations of players before them had bestowed upon them. The owners and some fans do not like it, but they better get used to it. It will be interesting to see how Miami Thrice and Revis’ wheeling-and-dealings play into the upcoming NBA and NFL labor negotiations. All I can say is that, “Don’t hate the Players, hate the Game!”

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