Column: Line Drives — Play to win, not for the money

[This is my column in the July 31 issue of The Commercial Review.]

Over the last decade or so, my view of professional sports has changed.

Years ago, I was a big supporter of professional athletes and the games they played.

After all, they are the best in the world playing at the highest level. And at the end of the day, they’re just playing a game.

But over time, mostly because of the commercialism of the four major sports, my viewpoint has shifted.

You hear stories of yesteryear when pro athletes played because they loved the game, they respected the game or they just wanted to have fun.

Now, though, it seems as if the end-all, be-all for pro athletes is to see how much money they can make.

No matter how a player performed, he was still going to collect a paycheck as long as he was still on the roster. Except for the NFL, the athlete is still compensated even if he is released from the team.

Eric Byrnes, for example, was set to make $11 million in the final year of his contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After not living up to his three-year, $30 million deal with the D-Backs, they released him in January 2010 with one year remaining on the contract.

He signed a contract two weeks later with the Mariners, who eventually released him in May of that year.

The 34-year-old Byrnes then went on to play beer-league softball with his friends while still collecting a paycheck from Arizona.

Watching high school or college athletics has always been enjoyable. At those levels, they are fighting for playing time and their shot at the next level.

They play because they want to get better, so they can build relationships and hang out with their friends.

They’re not getting paid to play in high school. For the moment, at least, college athletes aren’t getting paid either.

They’re playing for the love of the game.

All it takes is one mistake and the next athlete waiting for their shot will replace them.

Wednesday’s antics between two NFL players did nothing but reinforce my dislike for professional athletes.

Patrick Peterson, a cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals, signed a five-year, $70 million extension, $48 million of which is guaranteed. He went to Twitter just before noon to announce his news.

Seattle Seahawks corner Richard Sherman, who until Peterson’s deal was the highest paid defensive back in NFL history, took exception to Peterson’s celebratory tweet and fired back.

By doing so, he rekindled the beef from their May altercation when Sherman signed his new deal.

During Wednesday’s clash, neither Sherman or Peterson specifically named each other, but it was apparent who was being targeted.

The argument shows the two of them — and most athletes, actually — have lost sight of what really matters most.
Winning.

The greatness of a player should be determined by how they play on the field or how many times they win, not by how much money they make.

Would either of those two continue to play the game if they were forced to make the league minimum and nothing more? Doubtful.

Furthermore, worrying about how much money another professional athlete earns leads me to believe one’s priorities are out of whack.

So it begs the question: is it more important to be the highest paid player and never win or the lowest paid player with multiple championships?

Titles are more important, and any athlete who had a storied career and made a lot of money would tell you they would trade it all for a championship.

Barry Sanders, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly, Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing and Reggie Miller — just to name a few — are on the list of players who never won a title.

And you can bet they’d give up every dollar they made to get a ring.

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