For the love of the game? Or the money…

Taylor Charles

Everyone has dreams growing up. Some want to be the first on Mars, others want to change the world. My first dream was becoming an MLB star. All I ever thought about was making it to the big leagues. I sat in class every day perfecting my signature for when I was going to sign autographs to my fans. Sadly, the reality is 0.05 percent of high school athletes make it into professional sports according to the NCAA a number so small and chances so slim, that all I could ever do was dream. But for those who do make it into professional sports, is it really for the love of the game or the money?

Money has been on our minds for a long time, and sports are no different. Many athletes fall in love with a sport as a kid, but sacrifice playing time in the major leagues in order to hold out for more money. For example, National Football League (NFL)  athlete, Le’Veon Bell, sat out for an entire season just to demand more money. This begs the question: does he really love the game? The answer is arguably no, and there should be regulations and classifications met for each player before they can ask for a contract to ensure that athletes are playing out of genuine love for a sport rather than monetary reasons.

If they play for the pure joy of the sport as most claim to, athletes should never sacrifice valuable playing time for a little extra cash. Bell boycotted for an entire season because he believed he was worth much more than what the Pittsburgh Steelers offered him. The Steelers offered him a very appealing $70 million five-year deal. However, Bell rejected the offer and refused to show up and play the sport he said he “loves.”

Bell has tweeted about his adoration for the game, “If you could sit out a year of a sport you play and your [sic] not injured or something else is preventing you to play, then you don’t love it!” He also tweeted, “I’m not in it for the fame or the money, I just wanna be legendary.” These were tweeted back in 2013 and only one thing has changed between then and now: his salary.

In 2013, the highest paid running back was Adrian Peterson. Peterson signed a $10 million per year contract—the highest paid running back in history. Peterson was coming off a historic season where he rushed for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns. Bell had only rushed for 1,291 yards and made nine touchdowns in 2017, not even close to the numbers that Peterson put up, yet he turned down getting paid $14 million a year. Bell’s intentions were to be the highest paid running back of all time and he was extremely close, but he still would rather sit out of an entire season of football to make more money.

Rightfully so, Bell received a lot of criticism for his decision. His teammates were unhappy with him, and his coaching staff and fans were disappointed. Many fans burned Bell’s jersey and called him a sell out. Let’s look at some of the reasons why he made the decision to sit out.

Many star players signed huge deals in 2018, which may have fueled Bell’s fire. Star wide receiver, Odell Beckham Jr, had recently signed a 5-year $95 million contract extension. Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers quarterback, signed a 5-year $137.5 million contract. Packers quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, signed a deal upwards of $22 million a year.

All of these players that signed huge deals put up the statistics to verify them. Players need to earn the right to a raise in their salary. The NFL should install a new regulation that states that a player needs to meet a certain performance requirement set by the team before they can ask for a raise in their salary. This way players need to play and perform at a high level in order to earn more money rather than being able to sit out an entire season like Bell did.

It seemed like every team’s star player was getting paid an absurd amount of money except for Bell and he wanted to change that. Bell stated that he believes running backs are one of the most important players on the field and that they need to be paid more. His intentions were to change the future of the running back position and demand more money to show how important he is to the Steelers. However, his plan backfired when newcomer James Conner took his spot as running back while only being paid $578,000. Conner didn’t care how much he was being paid, and he showed a love for the game that Bell did not.

Bell clearly exemplifies how money can cloud priorities in a player’s head. Just the mere fact that Bell demanded to be the highest paid running back in the NFL and sat out an entire season after putting up mediocre numbers shows that regulations need to be stricter.

The NFL should implement a new rule that every player is paid the same base amount and the only way to raise their salaries is through performance. For example, a player gets bonuses to their salary if they reach 1,000 yards to 10 touchdowns. This way, every player has to earn their income rather than be able to hold out for a year.