Should NFL players be allowed to holdout?
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
It’s that time of year again! The NFL has yet to start, but training camps are already in full motion. And like any other year, training camps bring two things: injuries, and drama. But mostly drama. Every single year, there’s at least one player who thinks he deserves more money than he’s getting paid, so he threatens to sit on the sideline until he gets paid what he feels is right. Although holdouts are not NFL exclusive, the National Football League is where it is seemingly the most common.
While there have been a few scenarios throughout the years where a holdout player was actually underpaid by a large number, most modern holdouts have been about sending a message or establishing value. For example, X player wants to be known as the best player, and thinks he’s the best in a certain position so he wants to get paid the most in the NFL to play that position. Or, the other scenario has been that X player feels that he is better than Y player but is making less money than the Y player. Therefore, the X player demands a new contract to ensure that he is paid more than the Y player. I assure you, it sounds no dumber than it looks.
Before we tackle the question on whether or not players should be able perform a holdout, we need to look at why holdouts happen. Contracts, while normally filled with technical jargon and so much fine print that the magnifying glass needs to be magnified, can be simplified to three parts: how much a player gets paid, how long the contract is, and the player’s obligations. The responsibilities are generally the same, show up for training camp, don’t skip practice, and do what’s expected of you as a player. Simple enough. The money gets a little more complicated as we talk about guaranteed money and incentive rewards, so we’ll skip that. The number of years the contract persists is the important part.
Having a long contract ensures that you have job security. If a player can get the sort of money they think they’re worth, along with a large number of years, that is generally the deal they want. It ensures the player that they will be paid a large amount of money by the time their contract runs out. It also ensure job security, even if they lose their job, because the payout if they get cut will be more than worth it. However, the problem with long contracts is they don’t deal well with inflation. With a new player always thinking that they are the best each new year, inflation gets pretty crazy. Within three years of signing “the biggest contract” for a player in that position, that same player could be making the tenth most of players in his position. Still thinking he is the best, the player, only halfway through his original contract, will demand a new contract so he is once again paid the most amongst other players in his position. If he does not get the contract that he request, he has two options. He can be offended, play out the rest of his contract, and find a team that will pay him the amount of dollars he wants, or he can pull a holdout and force his team’s hand by ditching his responsibilities.
Most players will honour their contracts and wait until they are offered an extension to demand more money. The fear there is that by the end of the contract, the player will not be good enough to warrant that sort of money.
So they pull a holdout. What exactly that mean? Well, to be frank, it means they sit on their ass until they get paid. They abandon their responsibilities to their team, refusing to show up to training camp, and make a big stink about it in the media. The best analogy of a holdout I’ve ever heard compared it to a temper tantrum thrown by a child when their parent refuses to buy them that toy they want at the store. They sit on the floor and cry and scream until their parent finally gives in. When it’s put like that, the question really becomes why is this childish behaviour allowed?
Well, to be fair, it isn’t. Players that skip training camps are often fined for their insubordination. Players that go as far as to skip the actual season are fined a percentage of their contract for every game they miss, and if they miss the whole season, then it doesn’t count against the total number of years left on the contract. But if that’s the case, why are holdouts so common?
I go back to the child analogy. It is often said that if you reward a child’s negative behaviour, they will continue to behave that way, because it gets them what they want. Likewise, NFL players that holdout generally end up with what they want, which is a larger contract. This is because teams often cannot replace the hole left by the player holding out. Just because they aren’t paid the best, doesn’t mean they aren’t still good players. Teams cave, especially if players hold out until the regular season, and their absence causes the team to lose games. Nothing is more important in the NFL than winning games. If teams have to put up with child-like players to do so, they often will.
So what is the solution to all of this? I wish I could say it was easy, but it isn’t. Teams have to stop giving holdout players what they want. This is similar to how a parent might correctly deal with a child who makes a big deal about not getting what they want. Don’t give them what they want, and show them who is really in charge. Unfortunately, due to the way the NFL works, it’s unlikely that this will ever become common place. With so much emphasis put on winning, players will continue to be able to strong-arm teams into giving them what they want. Unless the next time they sign a CBA it prohibits holdouts, which will never happen, holdouts will likely continue to be a common occurrence. Even if it makes both sides look bad.