Listen, I know sports fans love to complain.
It’s what we do.
It’s part of the passion that drives a fan base. Sometimes the griping is warranted. Other times it’s not.
Without taking a scientific poll, it seems like there has been quite a bit more complaining about pro sports of late. When special athletes are paid millions of dollars and don’t quite live up to the expectations, it is natural for people to call them out from time to time.
But I would like to take a moment to single out something that is getting a little ridiculous.
For over a century of sports action, it is not unusual for an athlete to temporarily take a tiny bit of time off to reflect, recover or just to refocus themselves during a tough stretch.
Baseball catchers usually get the afternoon day game off following a preceding night game. Centers might sit out the second game of a back-to-back NBA contest when the team had a long travel flight earlier that day. Hockey goalies might take the third game off if all three contests are played within six days.
But more and more, athletes are getting rather large stretches of time off for rather minor and, in some cases, inane, reasons.
There was a time when athletes would play through minor pain issues and felt an obligation to their fan base to give a quality effort each and every night. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gave several interviews after his career was over of what he would go through to participate in a big ball game during a tough stretch in his schedule, (which was much, much more gruesome than today’s NBA athletes have). Pete Rose would take offense if he didn’t play in at least 96% of his 162 games scheduled each year. And I won’t even bring up the ironman accomplishments of Cal Ripken, Jr. and Lou Gehrig.
Over the last few months alone I’ve heard the following…
One of the Philadelphia Flyers’ top players requested six games (or two weeks) off because he needed time to “sort out his life.” The Sixers’ Joel Embiid, who has never come close to playing a full regular season schedule, said he needed to take three or four WEEKS off just because of the “grind” of what was a normal basketball schedule this year.
Not to pick on Embiid, who throughout his entire career has never played more than 77% of his games, but when he returned, he did not play well. He blamed it on “having a hard time getting going,” according to 76ers’ beat writer Tom Moore.
Speaking of Philadelphia’s pro basketball team, they played one game in the middle of their season without four of their starters. No significant injuries to any of them — they just needed a little break. It wasn’t even during a tough stretch of games nor was the team so far ahead in the standings that they could just miss four of their top five players and afford to pick up a loss while still battling for playoff positioning.
Sixers Head Coach Doc Rivers said his players needed a little time off just to “sort some things out.”
Imagine a family who works hard, saving enough money to take their family to see their favorite team, only to find out that practically 80% of the squad didn’t feel like showing up for work that day.
To look at this from an NBA perspective, Michael Jordan in his final year, at 39 years of age, played in all 82 games and averaged over 37 minutes played per night.
I could go on, but if you follow any of the major pro sports other than football, you probably have heard more than your fair share of similar excuses lately.
All the while, athletes garnish more and more money while playing less and less. And it’s hard to blame them!
If their bosses are going to let them be less productive and get far less out of their abilities, who am I to cheat them out of getting what amounts to a free ride?
It is the coaches, general managers and owners who are at fault for letting athletes’ minimum requirements per season spiral out of control to increasingly lower levels of efficiency. All the while they milk fans for their hard-earned dollars one way or another. Whether it’s charging insane amounts for tickets, let alone the absorbent prices for seating fees (for football and basketball), food, parking and even the smallest souvenir for a young fan.
If you can no longer afford to attend a sporting event in person, they’re making sports fans pay through the nose with excessive sports broadcast fees that have multiplied at ridiculous rates the last few years — all to help defray the cost of the record high amounts of money they are paying athletes…to play LESS than ever before!
There’s no easy solution to resolve this and lots of luck convincing the players’ unions in any professional sport nowadays of getting athletes to take a pay cut.
So I have an alternate plan.
If athletes truly need to take more than one game off due to the “mental fatigue” of playing a game or claim they need to take over 20% of their work schedule off in order to play their best, how about those players make a donation to a local charity equal to the corresponding amount of that portion of their salary?
To make it fair, each sport establishes a consistent level of expectations for all teams but each organization can set up how these donations can be distributed.
Negotiations can also take place to which charities receive this gift.
A majority of athletes do donate either their time or money anyway but this rule would make it mandatory for all athletes to give something back to their communities if they have to miss significant time for anything less than a reasonably excusable absence.
And who knows…it might just make an athlete think twice if they really need that 17th consecutive day off just because of all the hard work that goes into playing a game that thousands of others would love to participate in?
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.