What An Opportunity

Where to draw the line

In Sports on April 15, 2012 at 3:15 am

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A most unfortunate event occurred on March 22nd; Joba Chamberlain, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, suffered an open ankle dislocation while jumping on a trampoline with his young son. This is a seriously gruesome injury… perform a Google image search at your own risk. Anyway, Chamberlain is expected to miss significant time this season as he recovers. His is one of countless injuries suffered by athletes who were performing various activities outside of their sports. Obviously, Joba’s was more of a freak accident than something that should be criticized, and I don’t think the Yankees could chastise him in good conscience for being irresponsible in this situation. However, what happens when this is not the case? We have many examples of athletes who have been hurt in much more dubious manners. A few of them:

  • Kellen Winslow Jr. suffered a torn ACL in a motorcycle accident in 2005, despite being contractually obligated to avoid riding motorcycles.
  • Ben Roethlisberger was also injured in a motorcycle accident in 2006, breaking his jaw and nose, lacerating his head, and losing or chipping numerous teeth. He was not wearing a helmet.
  • Plaxico Burress receives my personal Darwin Award, for shooting himself in the leg in a nightclub in 2008 with a Glock that was tucked in the waistband of his sweatpants.
The teams who employed these players had every right to discipline them for their appalling decision making. But not every case is so head-scratching. Where does a team’s right to dictate their athletes’ decisions end? I’ll never forget a horrifying moment that occurred my sophomore year of college that made me question this. A bunch of guys in my dorm were playing pickup basketball, and Notre Dame wide receiver Golden Tate joined us. About halfway through the game, on one of his freakishly quick drives to the hole, he hit a wet spot on the floor and went down HARD. Every person there froze… and just looked at each other terrified. We thought we had witnessed ESPN’s top story of the night – “Notre Dame’s leading wide receiver tears ACL – out for 6-8 months.” Fortunately, Golden’s fall wasn’t as bad as it looked, and he got up and walked it off.
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My fear in that horrifying moment was two-fold; not only was I worried for ND’s football team, but also for Golden. I knew the entire football team was forbidden to be playing basketball at that point in the year, and that he might encounter serious trouble if he got injured doing so. But is that even right? I understand banning motorcycle riding or other inherently hazardous activities, but telling an athlete he cannot even play pickup basketball? That seems to cross the line. Injuries do occur in basketball… but they also occur on bikes. Or riding in cars. Or while sneezing.
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Teams, I think you need to chill out. Sure, demand responsibility from your athletes, and require them to act in a way befitting of the millions they’re making. But you cannot control their lives. Realize that freak accidents are a part of life, and at the end of the day, your players deserve to be able to live their lives without having to walk on eggshells, no matter how much you’re paying them. If a little bit of moisture on a basketball court can cause Golden Tate to face serious consequences, then something’s wrong. Let the boys play – you don’t own them.
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  1. I had totally forgotten about Burress. Sometimes I wonder what these guys are thinking!
    Good post

  2. Love this. I used to be “Fresh Meat” for a roller derby team. While in this position, I got to know several of the players on the actual team and I got to see the behavior and the guidelines set for the players. Keep in mind, that Roller Derby is a VOLUNTEER UNPAID sport, but where I live, it is treated as an unpaid professional sport. The girls actually play in the arena where “professional” sports are played. Anyway, I was told that if I was going to make the team, I would need to give up snowboarding or any other sport that might cause me injury. They actually frowned upon their team mates roller skating at the local roller rink because the kids who skated there could take you out and injure you and keep you from playing. I decided that I have a life beyond roller derby. I have young kids. I have a family. And this required snowboarding, running, hiking and roller skating with my daughter at the roller rink. I was not about to give up my life for a sport that demanded more of me than I was willing to give.

  3. For what they’re paying these guys, I would say they DO own them! Ask any one of these dudes who make 10 mil + a year and they would tell you, without hesitation, that they will do (and say) whatever they have to in order to keep those checks. I don’t blame them! I’m sure there was some sort of contractual agreement that was broken during those accidents; a contract that was agreed to by the player. You do NOT want to know what rules I would agree to for that kind of money! A few years of following strict rules for enough money to take care of my entire family for generations to come? Sir, yes sir!!!

    • Well, I roll my eyes when extremists compare our current sports structure (predominantly white owners and predominantly black workers) with slavery… but if you’re right, doesn’t that mean it is indeed very much like slavery?

      • I never said SLAVERY. But while we’re here: Slaves were given the bare minimum – overworked and underpaid; usually against their will. That is definitely not the issue here. I think it’s just a matter of how far someone is willing to bend over backwards and for how much money. Like I said, for 10 mil, sky’s the limit!

  4. I think the problem with slavery lies far more with the issue of controlling someone’s life than with the lack of payment for services. Economically, many slaves in America were better off than lower class industrial workers who were earning money, because the owners were providing living expenses; but I don’t think anyone would say the slaves were better off on the whole. I think the exercise of excessive control over another’s life is the issue I’m getting at here.

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