Athletes Are People Too
Alexander Frolov signed a one year deal with the New York Rangers worth $3 Million today. My first reaction was, WOW! what a great deal for The Rangers. Upon further research it appears that the sub-par year Frolov logged this past season has greatly diminished his value. I would have predicted he’d get a long term deal in the neighborhood of $4 Million per season. Over 7 seasons with LA, he averaged about 25 goals per year. With a high water mark of 35 goals in ’06-07. But this article is not about determining whether he was over/under-paid. Only his performance this season will determine a true answer.
My second reaction was, Why didn’t the Sabres sign this guy to a 1 year, $3Million deal? We’ve got players making much more than $3 Million who are far less talented than Alexander Frolov. That is a question for Darcy Regier. I am far from outraged that the Sabres didn’t sign Alex Frolov to a 1 yr/$3M deal, but I wonder If The Sabres even had the chance? In the end, the decision of WHERE a player signs is up to him. Let’s delve into the question of ‘What goes into that decision?’
As fans and more importantly NON-NHL Players, we live different lives than these athletes. We cannot skate like the wind, dunk a ball, hit a ball, or catch a Brett Favre pass. In most cases we make less money. Difference in athletic ability and difference in salary are the two things that separate us from world-class athletes. Everything else, such as the fame and stardom is merely a creation of our TV-driven culture. I will divide the motivations of athletes into 2 categories; Money and Personal. Money is self explanatory. Personal includes family, location, weather, and friends or familiarity of teammates.
As Average Joe’s, we make personal and money driven decisions every day. Job related decisions are our focus today. We find ourselves weighing a higher potential salary versus living close to our family & friends. Many of us move to a more exciting city, some choose to leave the city for quieter living quarters. The common thread is that the decision is based on a mix of Money and Personal factors. How different is our decision from the decision faced by today’s professional athletes?
Professional Lacrosse players have salaries on par with the rest of us Average Joe’s. $15,000 - $50,000. Consequently, we see them make their decision on where they play based on more Personal factors. Many of them need to have a second job to support their athletic pursuits and the town they’re most familiar with is most likely to provide that. The teams, because they pay so little, have to acquiesce to these player demands. Would you let someone who is paying you $20,000 a year tell you that you have to move from Boston to Denver? No, you’d probably quit & find another crappy job so you could stay near your friends and family.
Also, a city may just be ‘cool’ and fun to live in. A personal friend of mine who is a lacrosse journalist said when the Los Angeles Lacrosse franchise folded, many of the players quit lacrosse and stayed in SoCal because they like the LA lifestyle. Besides, they’re only walking away from a $25,000 salary. It’s only when players give up millions should we question their thought process. Matt Leinart stayed at USC basically to ‘be the man’ and party it up for one more year. That seems to go against the logic what most people would do[Average Joe’s or Super-Athlete’s]
When you get into the four major sports, the salaries skyrocket. Hockey players make up to $9Million, Football, $15 Million, Baseball, $27 Million, Basketball, $25 Million. Many times we see players sign mega-deals and we scoff at them, saying, “He just did it for the money”. Well, what was he supposed to do? I argue that once the amount of $(or difference in 2 monetary offers) becomes overwhelming, then it is human instinct to take the larger sum of $. Whether an amount of $ is overwhelming is a matter of scale. If you were making $30,000 as a bank teller in your hometown and were offered $150,000 to move to the West Coast and do the same job, I’m saying you’re taking that job and telling your friends that you’ll see them at Christmas. If you’re a football player, just add a couple zero’s and the same rule applies.
It’s funny, looking at the Lebron James situation. I believe he made the decision based on the best chance of winning. Isn’t that a good thing? We bash athletes for caring too much about $ and not wanting to win. I’ve got news for you folks, Lebron took less $ to go to Miami than he could have gotten from other teams. He wants to win an NBA title.
When a player sits down to make a decision on where he’ll sign as a free-agent, there may only be a couple offers. As fans, we see every team as a potential suitor. Maybe The NY Rangers were the only team that called Frolov. If I’m Alexander Frolov am I(or my agent) spending time calling NHL GM’s and asking if they want me to play Left Wing next year? Hell No! This is a big disconnect from Athletes to Average Joe’s. We have to apply for every job we get, while athletes have the job come to them. But the logic is the same. Alexander Frolov isn’t going to beg the Toronto Maple Leafs for a job and neither would YOU! It’s the same logic of maintaining your human dignity, just on a different level. There’s a segment of Buffalo fans that love to hate Chris Drury for ‘leaving Buffalo’, but the reality is that Sabres management dropped the ball. Most of us at some point have had to decide between two job offers. In Drury’s case, one of those job offers didn’t even call him back, so he took the job with the company that came through with a timely offer. Chris Drury doesn’t hate the city of Buffalo. Without getting into too many details it was basically a Money decision; nothing Personal about it.
Another factor of what makes a player sign or not sign somewhere are things that we as fans are unaware. Bill Cowher recently lost his wife to skin cancer. He had been living in North Carolina and despite being young and highly sought-after had stayed out of coaching for the past few years. When The Bills came calling this past off-season he politely declined. None of us knew about his personal heartache. We just assumed he was giving Buffalo the Willis McGahee treatment. Obviously his wife’s cancer was weighing heavily on his mind. Knowing this now, we can excuse Cowher for the polite, ‘No Thank You’ that he gave to Ralph Wilson. Athletes may have personal issues that prevent them from signing with a certain team. Like the things we hear that may or may not have happened between Ted Nolan and Dominik Hasek. I’m sure there’s more of that out there than we hear about. And you surely wouldn’t want to go into battle with someone who had betrayed your trust off the rink; no matter how big the paycheck. Sometimes we think we know all the relevant details, but often we do not. And that’s just something we’re going to have to accept. You’re going to have to accept not knowing exactly why Mike Grier left the Sabres to go to San Jose the first time. Maybe he just doesn’t want to share his personal life with us. I’m ok with that.
Us Average Joe’s make decisions based on the exact same factors. I’ve personally made much more questionable job choices in the name of money than Lebron James or Alex Rodriguez. I’ve also chosen to live in cities because of their coolness, while leaving my hometown in the dust. Is this not the same so-called ‘betrayal’ as what Lebron did to Cleveland? Before we complain about these athletes and their choices, let’s look in the mirror and see that we in fact are not making the same decision. If your life was on TV, would you be able to defend your choices?
Athletes are people too. They make decisions based on money, family, weather, teammates, city life and many more factors that we don’t even know about. They’re just like us; except they make 100 times more money.