By Timothy Bracey, For TheAfricanAmericanAthlete.com
Le’Veon Bell is a millennial and the ‘NFL franchise running back’ for the Pittsburgh Steelers who is currently in his option year for contract renewal has realized his value and worth to the Super Bowl and playoff regular pedigreed Steelers. However, it appears that the NFL’s former “Cadillac” position of the running back has been relegated to second, or even third-rate, status to most NFL franchises according to some general managers and some owners.
Bell who is not under contract and is of the Generation Y or millennial era is having something to say about his new contract being negotiated for his Pro Bowl value.
The NFL appears to only value guaranteeing long-term and substantial paydays to a select few quarterbacks and wide receivers.
Quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Stafford, Matt Ryan, Kirk Cousins, and Jimmy Garoppolo all have benefited from the salary cap exception for supermax contracts that billionaire owners are willing to pay them.
NFL receivers Antonio Brown (Steelers), Odell Beckham Jr., (Giants), and running back Todd Gurley (Rams), have been successful by leveraging their Pro Bowl status into lucrative contract extensions.
It should have been a “no-brainer” to reward these wide receivers who so often make the quarterbacks who are paid these supermax contracts look good, and vice versa.
Nonetheless, it was not so simple to get these wide receivers and other NFL non-quarterback players to this point. Defensive stars and Pro Bowl players such as Aaron Donald (Rams) and Khalil Mack (Bears) encountered hurdles in pursuit of attaining their value while negotiating their max contracts.
Mack, an outside linebacker, was traded from the Oakland Raiders to the Chicago Bears as media and players rumbled on that the Oakland Raiders had put much more stock in securing their coach Jon Gruden, as opposed to financially securing the services of Mack, arguably the best football player in the NFL. Gruden was rewarded with a $100 million contract for 10 years to coach the Raiders. After a holdout, eventually Donald, the Rams’ dominating defensive tackle reached an agreement that will pay him a max contract extension.
Millennials are leading the charge in circles that require advocacy for social change, and social justice reforms. Most polls suggest that millennials are perhaps the most progressive generation in America’s history. Their objective is to create a ‘One America’ a more inclusive world, and their mindset is not to look to traditional methods to create positive changes.
NFL players, as well as other professional athletes who are members of this millennial generation proudly and boldly, have asserted themselves with regard to social justice issues and causes.
It appears that the ‘light has come on’ with NFL Players who realize that their football playing career expectancy is brief. According to the NFL Players Association, “the average career length is about 3.3 years. However, the NFL claims that the average career is about 6 years (for players who make a club’s opening day roster in their rookie year season).
The physicality of the NFL is perhaps the most apparent reason for this short career playing expectancy and many of the players have taken note. The inherent physicality and aggressiveness of football lead to an array of injuries during the season and career-ending injuries. The NFL concussion protocol policy is a step in the right direction, but more research and preventive measures are necessary.
Players are taking a more business decision approach when it comes to negotiating contracts and contract extensions.
For instance, the running back position was the revered position. There has been an impressive 45 Heisman winners that were running backs. But the award has become more increasingly quarterback centric as the pass has become more of a strategy in football offenses today. Notwithstanding, the running back still touches the ball (i.e., 20 carries a game) in the offense in running formations where the vicious contact is imminent and punishing.
This type of punishment definitely is apt to shorten a player’s NFL playing career. There are a number of examples of crippled, hobbled, and former players that suffer as a result of the physicality of the game.
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes that lead to cognitive issues, i.e., “early symptoms of CTE usually appear in a patient’s late 20s or 30s and affect a patient’s mood and behavior. Some common changes seen include impulse control problems, aggression, depression, and paranoia”.
“As the disease progresses, some patients may experience problems with thinking and memory, including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, and eventually progressive dementia. Cognitive symptoms tend to appear later than mood and behavioral symptoms, and generally first appear in a patient’s 40s or 50s”.
“Patients may exhibit one or both symptom clusters. In some cases, symptoms worsen with time (even if the patient suffers no additional head impacts). In other cases, symptoms may be stable for years before worsening”.
It should not come to the surprise of anyone particularly a savvy billionaire business owner that ‘other businessmen’ want to make well thought out business decisions, particularly when the window of maximizing the greatest return on your investment is limited in time. And because of the imminent danger and exposure to serious injuries posed to players by the physicality of playing football.
This is the players’ point in maximizing their value while they can!
(Timothy Bracey is a Senior Analyst for The Jurisprudence Institute for Sports, Entertainment, and Social Justice.) (jurisprudenceinstitute.com)