As the National Football League continues to be criticized for the safety of its players, the treatment of top athletes has become a topic of concern. This past offseason, some of the most talented and well-known players sat out because of their contracts.
Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams did not report to training camp until he signed a six-year, $135 million contract, including a $40 million signing bonus and nearly $87 million guaranteed. Former Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack forced a trade to the Chicago Bears, where he signed a $141 million deal. The most notable of the holdouts, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, has still not reported to his team four weeks into the season due to his contract, and will not come back until Week 7, as reported by Jeremy Fowler.
To the average fan, this may come off as selfish; a rich football player who wants to get richer playing the game he loves. However, these players are looking for the same thing that anyone would like to see more from his or her employer – security.
When you have a player like Bell, who is an unrestricted free agent after this season, there are several concerns. With this being his last year with the Steelers, the team then has the freedom to use him as much as they desire with no concern to his future health.
As one of the best players at a position whose average time in the league is just over two and a half years, Bell wants to know he is not going to be abused for his talent and thrown to the side.
Earl Thomas of the Seattle Seahawks was in a similar situation to both Bell and his fellow defensive superstars this offseason. Slated to receive $8.5 million this year with only a third guaranteed, the top safety wanted security. However, he was not given it, and just like people would have liked to see Bell do, he eventually showed up to play anyway.
When Thomas went down Sunday with a broken leg, his greatest worries were legitimized and he let it show.
Thomas was carted off the field in Arizona on the edge of the Cardinals sideline. On his way off, he turned and gave his sideline the middle finger, speaking more words than the ones that comes to mind when this gesture comes up.
There is some criticism of responding in this fashion, but even Thomas’ teammate and team captain Bobby Wagner had his back.
In a statement Monday, Wagner made his opinion known.
“If he doesn’t come, then he’s not a team player. If he gets hurt, then it’s ‘he shouldn’t have came’…If I was him, I’d be pissed off,” Wagner said.
In an Instagram post by ESPN releasing this quote, Bell showed his support, stating: “smh exactly… I’ll continue to be the ‘bad guy’ for all of us.”
What comes across as a problem for the Seahawks or the Steelers should actually be interpreted as a problem for the entire league. While getting injured is a risk in all sports, it is almost inevitable for a football player. As someone who has now broke both of his legs in the last two seasons, and previously recovered from a torn labrum, Thomas knows that all too well.
The NFL will need to adjust. While leagues like the NBA have made it possible to pay their players much more guaranteed money, NFL players will not be pleased until the same is true for them. This is only the beginning of a long battle between the NFL and its players.
Keith Egan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Keith_egan10.