The names change, but the story remains the same. An athlete gets drafted by a team out of college, maybe signs an extension or two, then when things are not going well reports surface that he wants out, and fans of that team lose their collective minds. It does not matter where in the country it happens, nor which sport. While sports fans have never earned the moniker of “level-headedness,” this singular issue confounds me like no other.
Most people in the United States have a connection to a certain city, state, or even region. Be it New England, New York City, the South, the Midwest, the West Coast, whatever; most people have somewhere that is embedded in their identity due to family, upbringing, or some other form of heartstring pull. That is part of what makes fans so passionate when one of their team’s players leaves town: it feels like that person is directly insulting where the fans are from and care about deeply.
“How dare Paul George want to leave Indiana? We have Penn Station Subs!”
“KD wants to leave OKC? Fine, we’ll never let him into a QuikTrip again.”
“Brett Favre leaving Green Bay? Probably can’t handle the snow, that coward.”
Most of you reading this have a city, state, or region in mind that means a lot to you. Now, let’s apply that to a small thinking exercise. Imagine you’re an accountant from Atlanta. You went to UGA, you did well in school, and you now have Big Four firms wanting you to work for them like crazy. In the real world, you can just apply for the jobs you want in the city you want. Say you want to live in your home city of Atlanta, or you want to move down to the sunny shores of Miami. No problem, you can tell the recruiters blowing up your LinkedIn that’s where you want to be, and anyone trying to get you to Charlotte or Cincinnati or St. Louis can kick rocks.
Imagine if that was not possible. Imagine if when you were coming out of college, you had to go to whatever firm wanted you in whatever location they want you in. Atlanta? Enjoy Boise this coming winter, because you’re coming to the Gem State. I will take it a step further. Imagine being the absolute best accounting graduate entering the workforce in the entire country, and not only can you not pick your company or even your location, but you’re required to go to the worst managers with the least-competent coworkers of any firm in the market. Pretty screwed up, no?
So there you are, living in a city you don’t want to live in, working for a boss you did not sign up for, trying to be at your best when the talent around you is a mixed bag, and you’re required to be there for a couple of years. Sucks, right? Welcome to the life of a professional athlete in the United States of America. Where you can work hard all your life, extending your natural gifts to their fullest potential, excelling at the college of your choosing, only to end up playing small forward for the Detroit Pistons.
Let’s look at this exercise in the context of the max contract and franchise tags of the NBA and NFL, respectively. League executives know roster turnover is bad for business. Kids have posters in their rooms, season ticket holders show up in player jerseys, and winning is paramount, but if you cannot win, then at the least you need a star. So, they have incentivized players to stay in their current location in the NBA by offering up significantly more money to resign with their current team. There you are, the star accountant at that firm in Boise, jonesing to get back closer to home as your contract is coming to a close when you find out you’ll be offered 20-30 percent more to stay in Boise and no one in Atlanta or Miami is allowed to match that figure.
Things are even worse for player movement in the NFL. The max contract rules in the NBA are bad, but at least it is your choice. In the NFL, you are assigned the franchise tag. Each team gets one per year, and if you want to leave, well too bad. Sure, you get paid near the top of your position group, but in a league where careers are alarmingly finite and there are a slew of horribly-run franchises, not having options is a porous deal. This means even if you want to leave your firm in Boise, you get the equivalent of the computer virus Newman set off in Jurassic Park.
It does not matter if you hate your boss, hate your coworkers, hate your city, miss your friends and family and creature comforts, or anything else in-between. You’re stuck. Not only are you stuck, but people who make less money than you who wish they were accountants and did math in middle school will tell you you’re a piece of shit for wanting out of Boise, and they would do your job much cheaper!
Professional sports will trade you (occasional) fame and bags of money in exchange for your privacy, your body, and your freedom. I do not want to make this about Packers fans, because as I said earlier, it’s all fans, but please excuse me if I don’t assault Aaron Rodgers on social media for wanting to take hold of the end of his career, if he indeed does want out of Green Bay. He has carrier that franchise around for the last decade-plus, making up for their free agent blunders and draft ineptitudes with his ability to make plays like almost no one else in the history of the sport.
If he wants to go to Denver, Miami, New Orleans, Carolina, or anywhere else under the sun, please Packers fans, turn your anger away from the guy who brought you a Super Bowl and turn it to the general manager who may be the reason you never win one again.