The “ME” Culture of Sports

000-football-money3-700x400There is no “I” in Team but there is  a “ME”. And on Monday morning Stanford University star running back Christian McCaffrey became the poster boy for a trend that is becoming more and more popular and one that is only likely to grow in the near future. McCaffrey is the biggest name in college football thus far to not just forgo a year of eligibility but to walk out with games still on the schedule during the season. McCaffrey announced that he would be skipping the Sun Bowl to begin preparing for the NFL Draft, which he stated last month he was entering early.

With the McCaffrey announcement the immediate discussion of whether or not this is a good move began making the rounds. I will not sit here and try to say whether a player should or should not risk their future earnings by playing. It is the players right to make that decision. So I will not be talking about the monetary aspect of this argument. But a quick sidenote, many of these star players take out insurance policies to protect themselves in case of an injury. So while it is not the “big” money they could make without an injury, they still would be set. Christian McCaffrey in fact would have received $5 million on his policy. But rather than talk about the money aspects of this situation I want to focus on the heart of the matter, and that is the perfect sentiment…heart.

Ask anyone that has played a team sport and they will talk about their teammates. The players they sweat and bleed with. The same men they spend early morning workouts or late nights traveling with. It is their teammates that ex-athletes, from all levels, will say they miss after they have moved on from the game. That commradery, that bond, the shared pains and joys of being a teammate. That is what it is all about. Working together as a team, putting your heart into it. And this is where I think the argument on McCaffrey and others should be focused on. Take a look at a tweet from Ezekiel Elliott on Monday in regards to the topic.

zeke

Of course in the day of social media people immediately jumped on Ezekiel, mentioning that he skipped his senior year to enter the NFL Draft. But I think they missed the point of his tweet. As I mentioned earlier I have no problem with players forgoing a season. But what Ezekiel and I am talking about are the players that are leaving DURING the season. Just as McCaffrey is leaving without finishing the season, LSU start Leonard Fournette is skipping his team’s bowl, although his situation is different because he has battled injuries all season long and in fact missed LSU’s last game of the regular season. But earlier Oklahoma’s Charles Walker left the team back in November, although he was out at the time with a concussion, but he still left the team with more than a month left to focus on the draft.

The same discussion has even worked its way into the NFL when Adrian Peterson announced last week that he was considering not returning from his injury to play in games unless the team was in playoff contention. He did in fact return this past Sunday, to a lackluster performance, but it opened the question that if he was healthy enough to play shouldn’t he be on the field no matter what?

The issue is when a player, a healthy player, leaves his team. Walking away from the same guys he spent the last few years with on the field and committing to. When a player decides that they are more important than the rest of the players on the field that is an issue. Yes I understand the injury questions. But I have always said that is one of the weakest arguments brought up by anyone because injuries can happen at any time. There is no magical amount of time spent on a field that lowers risk of injury. Are there more chances for a player to get hurt? Yes, but it is still not quantifiable in terms of statistics because there is no proven point of injury.

To see players like McCaffrey walk out on their teammates is disappointing. It is only furthering the business aspect of sports. I will not claim that college athletics is pure anymore, it is most definitely a business. But the fans do not watch sports to see how big budgets can grow or what type of investments players make.

We watch sports because we are passionate about the teams we follow. And seeing players walk away with games remaining on their schedule, brings the ugly side of business to the forefront. As I’ve said this is not money this is about heart. Fans will do most anything for our teams, including spending large amounts of money for our teams. It is too bad that the players on those teams won’t do the same and simply care more about themselves than the team.

We have seen the devaluing of teams over the years. It is now about the stars; from star players to star programs and star coaches. It is a “ME” culture. I don’t want to sound like an old-timer talking about the good old days but maybe we need to bring back the phrase about “players that spend more time worried about what’s on the back of the jersey than on the front”. I for one do not want a player more worried about himself than about the rest of the team. Because even though they may be super-talented we know that talent alone does not win; it takes a team. And I want players focused on winning on the scoreboard not on their bank account.

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