On the John
Lance Briggs, and the question of contracts
Originally completed April 4, 2007 (it was a busy day)
Lance Briggs is set to earn 7.2 million dollars this coming 2007 season. He will do this by playing really, really good football as the starting weakside linebacker for the Chicago Bears, who, like Briggs, are also really good at football. They are particularly good at defense, where Briggs, good ol’ number 55 himself, will be lining up next to six other defensive Pro Bowlers. Briggs’ Bears have compiled a 24-8 record since 2005; they even played in this huge deal called the Super Bowl this past February. With 21 starters set to return in 2007, Briggs will have a chance to play yet another season of professional football for one of the NFL’s premier teams.
There’s just one catch: he doesn’t want to.
Nope. Briggs does not want to return to the Bears. He is mad that they have chosen to use the franchise tag on him rather than signing him to a long-term contract. The Bears say that they offered him a long-term deal following the 2005 season, and that they told him they would franchise him if he did not sign. Jerry Angelo says that the deal was 33 mil over six years; Briggs says that it was 33 over seven.
This is all incidental. The Bears and Briggs are doing what everyone does: protecting their interests. Should 7.2 million be enough for Briggs? Probably, but that’s not really the issue here. When it comes to professional sports, money is just another statistic, with contracts serving as another form of competition.
So Lance Briggs is being selfish. And why not? I mean, how unselfish can one be when employed in a selfish business? Just look at the Bears and their dealings with Thomas Jones, Tank Johnson, Ron Rivera, and Bryan Johnson over the past year. They’ve been entirely self-centered. That’s the way it goes. This is the business we’ve chosen, and when you’re trying to mesh sports and business, you’re going to end up with a lot of contradictions. Briggs is thinking only of himself. And when you look at how his employers operate in regards to “respect” and “family” and “unity,” I don’t blame him one bit.
But there’s something else. Take a look at what the man said on March 4th:
“There’s a difference between the Chicago Bears team and the Chicago Bears organization. The Chicago Bears team? The coaches, players, city and fans? Yeah, I could stay there forever. I love it. But the Chicago Bears organization? I don’t want to be there anymore.”
Briggs is essentially echoing the sentiments of many American workers. I like my job, what I do, and the people I do it with. I just don’t like my boss. Certainly his statement could have been made as insurance, a bit of the old “you guys are all right by me” in case he ends up in a Bears uniform in 2007. When I first heard it, I was actually pretty appreciative. He likes me! Hooray! But the more I think about it, the more uneasy I become.
There are plenty of people who dislike certain aspects of their jobs, and while some stay because they have no other options, many others stay because they find their situation to be worthwhile overall. Most people have had jobs like that. Many teachers, for example, are at odds with their school district or No Child Left Behind. But they love what they are doing and feel a commitment to their students. There are loads of people in other fields doing the same thing, people who are unhappy in some respect but have decided that there is enough good to balance it out.
And this is my problem with Lance Briggs.
If what he says is true, if he really does love his teammates and his coaches and the fans and the city, then shouldn’t that be enough for him to stay? I do not fault Briggs for being unhappy with his contract offer; if I were a professional athlete, my perspective on the value of money would be entirely different than it is today. But I hope that I would also have the perspective to weigh everything out evenly and get beyond the dollar signs.
What is the value of being happy with your teammates and coaches, of loving the fans you play for and the city you represent? What is the value of not simply playing football at the top of your field, but doing it on a team that is at the top of theirs? If Briggs gets 33 over 6 in Washington, and his new contract and new team bring him the status he desires but strip him of the teammates and coaches and fans that he apparently loves so dear, will it have been worth it? Sports is a business—often a ruthless one—but is it impossible to move beyond that? Is it unrealistic that a player or coach could one day step to the podium and announce to the sports world that he has agreed to a contract under market value because he loves his teammates, coaches, fans, and the city? Is that so absurd?
Some would say that Lance Briggs has 7.2 million reasons to stay in Chicago. I say he has four.
Copyright 2007, jm silverstein
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