Sherman’s March

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Lots of chatter about Richard Sherman’s and Doug Baldwin’s press conference yesterday, in which the Seahawks teammates joined forces with a life-size cut out of Baldwin to take on the “hypocrisy” of the NFL’s media availability and sponsorship policies as well as to call out its double-talk on player safety.

There are two points I want to make about reactions to Sherman and Baldwin.

1) Sports business guru Darren Rovell let fly a small twitter barrage in defense of the league. One of his arguments was that since Sherman, who has a deal with Beats by Dre, is also receiving a portion of pooled money from the NFL’s exclusive sponsorship deal with Bose, Sherman is effectively “double-dipping.”

So, how much are the players making from the Bose deal? When the NFL and Bose announced their deal this summer, the league exercised its Emily Post-like sense of decorum to decline to discuss how much it was getting from Bose. According to media reports, the NFL’s previous deal with Motorola was for $40 million a year and that the NFL rejected a $50-mil per year offer to re-up with Motorola.

So, let’s assume the deal with Bose is for $75 million a year, which would be nearly double the previous deal. According to Rovell, 45% of sponsorship deal money goes to players, added to the salary cap. Someone can correct me if I am wrong, but since teams don’t have to spend all their cap money, it’s not necessarily true that that’s a dollar-for-dollar transfer to the players’ pockets.  But let’s assume it does mean that.

45% of $75 million is about $35 million. Since we’ve probably overstated the size of the Bose deal, I will low ball this a tad and say that this leaves about $1 million a year per team for players’ salaries. There are 53 men on an active roster. So, even leaving aside practice squads, I get a figure of about $20,000 per player per year from Bose. I have a very strong hunch that, when you crunch the numbers, the figure is lower than this, but that’s not a lot of money for an NFL player in any case. if you asked Richard Sherman whether he’d sacrifice that sum in exchange for having some of his grievances being addressed by the league, I strongly suspect he wouldn’t think twice.

This raises a related issue which is that there persists a feeling that the players are incredibly lucky to lead the lives they do and to make the money they make. And in a profound sense, that is true. But here’s where that thinking goes off the rails – so are the freaking owners, not to mention the Commissioner, with his $40 million in annual compensation. If Richard Sherman is arguing that ordinary women and men should feel sympathy for him because he can’t make ends meet or is unfairly oppressed by the league relative to the working conditions of ordinary folks, he should be laughed out of the room. But he’s not saying that. He’s saying he has a beef with the league. You don’t have to agree with him. But if you think Richard Sherman is out of line complaining about sponsorship restrictions because he pockets some extra cash every year, how about spending 100 times the air time hammering rich owners who rob municipalities blind while they simultaneously hold themselves up as pillars of their communities?

There’s a basic lack of proportion here.

2) In criticizing some of what Sherman had to say, Mike Golic fell back on a favorite trope today – the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The media availability clause in player contracts, which union negotiators accepted, says players need to be available to media. Seahawks’ running back Marshawn Lynch, who has been mocked in the past for his nervous responses to questions, has twice been fined $50,000 for refusing to speak to reporters. If players don’t like that clause – and Golic was sincerely sympathetic to some players’ aversion to speaking publicly – they can address that the next time they negotiate a CBA, Golic says. One hears this argument all the time about Goddell’s unilateral disciplinary power.

Here’s the thing, though. You can’t get everything in a negotiation. You prioritize. Some stuff you have to let go, as you live to fight another day, That doesn’t make it impermissible to complain about those demands the other side insisted upon. Owners do it all the time, usually beginning to complain about one minute after the ink is dry on a CBA that they’re *still* not making enough money. And that’s the piece of this argument that is so aggravating – I rarely if ever hear media invoke the “you bargained it” argument to shut down an owner or a commissioner.

I’ve brought this up before in connection with now-retired Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig. Selig defended the scourge of PED use on his watch in the 1990s by arguing that he had no choice because the union would not agree to drug testing before the 2002 CBA agreement. Well, guess what? He signed on to those agreements. If he was so concerned about PED use, and really saw it as the singular threat to the game’s integrity he subsequently claimed to champion, he could have shut down the sport until the players caved on testing. After all, he was quite willing to do precisely that to advance largely bullshit economic arguments about how franchises like his own couldn’t compete or make money.

If it’s good for the goose, it ought to be good for the gander.

Sherman’s presser is a relative triviality in the great scheme of things. But a bias persists in painting players as lucky parasites who should be thankful for every dollar they earn, whereas owners’ wealth, however they make it, is their birthright.

Happy Thanksgiving, all. (Seriously!).

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