Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Glamorous Life of the Professional Athlete

Any time I hear "professional football player," I immediately picture an episode of MTV Cribs, with an absurdly rich and famous athlete standing in front of his mansion with a collection of exotic cars, each worth more money than I'll make in a lifetime.

For a lot of NFL players, that stereotype probably isn't too far off the mark.  But it's amazing how quickly the fame, money, and prestige drop off when you start to get away from the highest levels of the game.

There is no better reminder of the steepness of that drop-off than the recent story of the Pittsburgh Power, an Arena Football League team.  Team members were threatening to go on strike over--what else--money.  The Player's Association was demanding $1,200 per game, a hefty raise from the $400 per game they were currently earning.
The owners threw back a counter-offer of $500 per game, which the players took as a slap in the face--with an eighteen game schedule, even the $1,200 per game paycheck would leave the players well below the poverty line.  With the impending strike threatening the Power's season opener, coach Matt Shaner decided to take a more...shall we say...."proactive" approach to the situation, firing every single player on his twenty-four man roster. 

When most people imagine the perfect way to part ways with an employer, if such a thing exists, it likely involves a loud, profanity-laced spectacle where you tell your boss what you really think of him, followed shortly thereafter by "I quit!"  George Costanza knew how to do it right:

Sadly, members of the Pittsburgh Power never got the chance to make such a bold departure.  Hours before kick-off of the Power's season opener against the Orlando Predators, Shaner told his crew that they were cut from the team.  Hardly a courageous, memorable way to lose a job, but the story gets better (or much, much worse if you were one of the unlucky twenty-four...).

Not only did the players lose their jobs, but the location where they received the bad news was perhaps equally unfortunate:

You can't make this stuff up: the players were eating a pre-game meal at Olive Garden when the coach gave 'em the axe.  Before Shaner could even finish reading the eulogy on their careers, most of the players got up and walked out, tossing Shaner a metaphorical middle finger with a team dine-and-dash.  What a truly sad story--twenty-four out-of-work football players who didn't even have the chance to finish their unlimited salad and breadsticks.  I have no idea if the football team was any good, but they displayed some impressive teamwork right up to the bitter end.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm no Arena Football League expert--I couldn't name a single current or former AFL player other than Kurt Warner, who played for the Iowa Barnstormers in the late 90s before he became an MVP and Super Bowl champion. (Like me, Warner is a former Hy-Vee employee who went on to achieve tremendous success and fame).  I haven't paid much attention to arena football since those says, but I'm getting the impression that the league has crumbled into pure chaos.

 The birthplace of champions!

After the mass firing, some of the former Power players ditched the union and rejoined the team before the game.  Luckily for the Power, the Predators were facing a similar situation on the other side of the field, with massive cuts to their roster.  The season opener went on as scheduled, however, as random players pulled up to the stadium minutes before kick-off to fill the open roster slots.  One of the backup QBs even switched teams just prior to the game in some kind of pregame draft, and once things got underway, announcers had no idea who most of the players were.  Fans claimed the game had the atmosphere of a kids' pickup game.

The Arena League is certainly a far cry from the packed stadiums and high-caliber play that NFL fans have come to expect, but watching a team of washed-up division III players and local high school stars battle it out on the the arena field offers its own special type of entertainment value.  And it can't be any worse than what the Manning-less Indianapolis Colts fans suffered through last season.

Here's are some links with the hilarious details:

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