Takin' a T/O With BT: The Problem with Holdouts

xx yySenior Writer IJuly 25, 2008

At the beginning of the month, first-time NHL and NBA free agents alike were putting pen to paper, dotting the i's and crossing the t's, and signing on the dotted line.

Three weeks later, it's holdout season in the NFL—that magical time where players' sense of self worth escalates, and they refuse to be seen as a part of "their team" until they can be guaranteed a much larger paycheque.

You can call it greed, you can call it egotistical, or you can call it a player just being ensured that he can receive fair compensation for his services—whatever you call it however, the holdout has become one of the ugliest disputes in sports.

Players are ostracized amongst peers, fans and teammates. A fan favorite is easily turned into a villain through the media, and sometimes the home town boy has to skip town—all because of what is essentially, an argument over the goods and services one side provides, and the price the opposing side is willing to pay.

It's things like this that make sports a business. If you can't land the big account or if you can't catch the big pass in the dying minutes of a game, you're gone.

If you can't afford to pay the royalties, then some other bigger and better corporation is surely willing to pay them, that's just how it is, and that's why players hold out: They know that one way or the other, they'll get their pay day.

Some will say it's just their drive to get overpaid and that today's athletes are monsters driven more by greed and less by the passion that helped their predecessors give it all during the season, and take on a part-time (or full-time) job in the offseason just so they could survive and get back to their game.

Babe Ruth probably never made more in a season than Alex Rodriguez does during an at-bat; Willie Mays very well could have been paid the same amount over his career than Barry Bonds made in 2006. Meanwhile any NHL player from the mid-80's or before looks at today's contracts and wonders why they weren't born a few decades later.

I believe these men are overpaid, and many of the fans do as well, as it's the fans who pay their salaries—but it's just that. The holdout, and the current-day contract in sports has become as astronomical and as diabolical as it has, not because the athletes are necessarily greedy, but because of the nature vs. nurture.

For the players who have had careers that have spanned decades, they've been nurtured on to the monstrous contract, and for the players that careers begin today, tomorrow, and in the future, this is the nature of the situation in which they enter.

Because this is the scene which they enter however, the attitude of "I want my money and you're going to give it to me" becomes ok.

Devin Hester apparently can't afford to play football on $450,000 a year. Is he worth more than that? Yes he is. But to wait two more years, and honor the two remaining years on his current contract isn't worth it to him.

As he becomes engulfed in his own talent and his own fame, the past two years become moot—so what if he played the past two years, risking his health each time, and made a combined base salary that was lesser than $1 million? The next two years aren't worth it, so he'll just hold out.

The risks are the same, but his popularity and his perceived worth—and if he gets his way his paycheque—aren't.

But why is this still allowed? Granted a player of Hester's caliber will help his team—he undoubtedly will—but why should team management give in.

Of course it improves the on the field product, but it just gives another dog his day, another baby his bottle, another pig his mud.

What if one day, an owner just says "no" and let's the player hold out.

It happened to Deion Branch a few years ago—he became so insufferable that the New England Patriots gave up and moved him to Seattle where the Seahawks were willing to pay him what he wanted.

But what if, instead of trading him, Bears management does nothing and lets Hester sit for the next two years instead of re-negotiating?

Is it practical? No. Hell, it's not even possible, but it's interesting to think about isn't it?

A team can't hold out from a player—the Toronto Maple Leafs discussed the idea of letting Bryan McCabe stay home, but the NHL Players' Association would have had the noose all ready to go by the time McCabe woke up the first day of his "house arrest".

A team also isn't allowed to force a player into re-negotiations if he underperforms, while a player can hold the team hostage if he over-performs (or gets flat-out, consistently better).

The team's are granted the trade avenue, but it really only hurts them, as we've already covered how if one team is too cheap, another will certainly pick up the slack.

But despite being unbelievably talented, what's so difficult about seeing the remainder of a contract through? It's not as if the player isn't making money still on his current deal, and his name is written on the dotted line, dictating an agreement that he made to play for so-many years for so-many dollars.

The salaries are getting higher and higher—as much as it isn't fine with me, I'm more concerned with the sense of commitment: And what happens if any of these players hold out after a year or two of their new deal, expecting more cash.

You know what Devin Hester? You can have your pay day—in two years' time. You signed on for four years and you're still two years away. Be a man of your word; it's not like football will be less fun the less you get paid right?

Since when did owning up to your word and following through on your commitments become such a bad thing?

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report. If you'd like to get in contact with him, you can do so through his profile. You can also check out his past work in his archives.


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