Who signs your paycheque…Country or Club?
Does anyone remember The World Baseball Classic? I barely have a vague recollection that something like that existed. It appeared most of North America just didn’t seem to care. Honestly, I would rather have my favorite Major League Baseball team show up with a positive attitude, and a determined willingness to destroy the boundaries of every stadium.
However, it seemed the rest of the world was so psyched up for that tournament. Japan, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic….heck, I think Fiji was pumped up for it, even though they didn’t have a team entered. However, on a daily basis we heard about another North American, or even some Latin American players, that are either ‘injured’, recovering from an injury, or simply have chosen not to play for their country. Co-incidence? I think not.
This problem of getting professional players to participate in “voluntary” international events or exhibition games, is going to continue to arise. In this writer’s humble opinion, professional athletes have a responsibility, nay OBLIGATION to their club teams first. International events, such as the Olympics, the World Cup of Soccer, or the yearly IIHF World Hockey Championships are eventually going to be strictly relegated to amateur events.
I for one, am OK with that. Growing up, I always thought the Olympics were supposed to be a showcase for amateur athletics. But, the United States kept getting their lunch handed to them in basketball every four years, so they initialized the idea of: “Let’s allow Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson to play and we’ll see what happens… or we’ll take our ball and go home.” Canadian Olympic officials immediately jumped on board that ship with our men’s hockey team in the Winter Olympics.
The problem with professional athletes playing in these events, is liability and the very real possibility of an injury to one of the great players in a specific sport. Albert Pujols, a native Dominican and reigning National League MVP at that time, had to pull out of the World Baseball Classic due to insurance issues. Pujols had off-season surgery to move a nerve in his right elbow, and he has had a ligament injury in that same elbow for nearly six years. He was not permitted to play for the Dominican team as a result of the operation.
The injury issue is enough of a concern during the All-Star breaks of each of the four major sports in North America. We should just stick to the skills contests, cancel the actual games, and hope for the best. It seems the NFL might be coming to its’ senses and has cancelled all Pro-Bowls for the foreseeable future. Ninety percent of the time, the games aren’t entertaining, and the television ratings continue to plummet. As a New England Patriots fan, I get petrified when every Pro Bowl comes up and we have 5 or 6 guys playing. What happens if one of these guys gets seriously injured? Worse yet, owners and General Managers have to worry about their star players getting hurt during this ‘exhibition’ performance for the good of the league.
During the last Olympics, Steve Nash, The NBA’s, and Canada’s best point guard, did not play for team Canada because his boss at that time, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, said “No, you cannot go.” It had nothing to do with Nash’s desire to go, as the Canadian media went on about. This is one of the few times I agree with Mr. Cuban. He was paying Nash’s salary and did not want his meal ticket to end up on the Disabled List because of some freak accident, that did not occur during his “regular job”
Already, in this year’s NBA playoffs, Chicago Bulls guard and reigning league MVP, Derrick Rose tore his ACL and is done for the year. This occurred in the first game of the playoffs, on a seemingly innocuous play. It can happen so easily. With the grueling schedule of this post-lockout year, players have been breaking down left and right. Players can only push their bodies so much, before something finally snaps. You can only imagine the fear that shot through Miami Heat owner Micki Arison, when a couple of weeks ago, LeBron James said he’s ready to play for the US Olympic basketball team in London this year. If I were an owner, there would be no way, that one of my star players could enter into an international competition. In fact, I would have it as a stipulation upon signing of the contract.
I still don’t understand why we as Canadians don’t understand this when the IIHF World Hockey Championships come up. Sure, some great players did not make the playoffs, or were eliminated in the first round. But you know what? They have to worry about next year, staying healthy, and making sure their family has an income. Sidney Crosby was assaulted with insults and calls of treason because he isn’t going to play for Canada this year after being eliminated from the playoffs. Those people need to give their collective heads a big shake. Crosby spent most of this year and last, fighting the lingering effects of a concussion. He made sure the message that he loved to play for Canada at every opportunity would not go away. But for now, he deserves the summer break to become healthier for next year’s regular season with the club that pays him.
We see European and South American soccer players willing to give their right arm to play for their countries, but one has to wonder when their club teams are going to crack down on this. David Beckham is getting paid just a foolish amount of money by team owner Philip Anschutz , to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy. He relinquished his captaincy of England’s squad, and has said he will limit playing in international matches. But others comparable to his ability and international appeal, continue to do so with reckless abandon. Malcolm Glazer, an American billionaire owns arguably the highest profile team in sports today, the Manchester United Football Club. As well, he owns the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. John W. Henry, another American billionaire, owns Liverpool FC, and the Boston Red Sox. In this unpleasant world economic climate, and as North American business owners, there is a very good chance the time will come where Malcolm and John put their collective feet down. They will say to one of their star international players, “No, you cannot go.” They are paying the salaries, and right now, any tournament or ‘friendly’ match is too much of a liability to the clubs’ future. I don’t think they would be wrong.
It is time the sports fan realizes, while technically we’re paying the players, it is the owners and general managers that have the onus of keeping the team afloat, and the sponsors happy with their performance. The best way to do this is by ensuring the health of their star players. The owners already have enough financial issues on their plate dealing with the enormous salaries demanded these days. Worrying about the well-being of the members of their team during an exhibition contest should not be an additional burden. I love Canada, and as much as it pains me to think this, it truly is time for club to come before country.
. As a New England Patriots fan, I get petrified when every Pro Bowl comes up and we have 5 or 6 guys playing. What happens if one of these guys gets seriously injured?
They cancelled the Beach rookie game after that Patriot tight end tore his ACL back in the late 90's. He never made a comeback