Most professional athletes don’t understand that every single one of them is disposable. That got proven when pro baseball not only survived but flourished after Babe Ruth retired and has been indisputably apparent ever since.
Pro football is the topic du jour now that Antonio Brown and his flunky, James Harrison, have done everything but declare war on the Steelers.
If every player on every roster disappeared tomorrow — perhaps struck down by a virus that kills those without sufficient humility — the NFL would carry on not long after. (Larry Fitzgerald would survive.) Teams would be stocked with new players. Fans would bet, tailgate, play fantasy football and buy replica jerseys. Somebody would be MVP. One team would win the Super Bowl.
After a short period of time, nobody would know the difference.
It’s the money that can’t be replaced. Art Rooney II is more important to the Steelers than Brown ever was or could be. That is beyond argument.
NFL players are employees, period. Not partners but employees.
They might be underpaid. They aren’t protected properly — not contractually and not physically (though I’m not sure how much more can be done regarding the latter within the context of a full-contact sport). They have legit gripes.
But they’re not slaves or anything resembling, as some big thinkers posit. The average NFL player makes $2.1 million. Slaves worked gratis, and the conditions were rather trying. (How could a sane person make that comparison?)
The NFL players’ complaints could be addressed in the next CBA, which will be negotiated after the 2020 season. They could have been addressed in any of the previous CBAs. Seven have been negotiated since the first one in 1968. But the players are loath to miss paychecks and too easily capitulate.
In 2020, the players will concede some important points if the league eliminates testing for marijuana. Bet that. Bigger issues will disappear in a cloud of smoke.
The players don’t owe the owners gratitude or vice-versa. The players do their jobs and are compensated.
Owners are rarely loyal to the players and vice-versa. That notion becomes more outdated all the time.
But there should be mutual respect.
That’s why Brown and his flunky, Harrison, should forever be subject to Pittsburgh’s scorn. There’s only one side to this story.
Harrison was a marginal player until the Steelers gave him a legit chance. The late Dan Rooney foolishly defended Harrison when he committed domestic abuse. Harrison left the Steelers after nine seasons, playing with Cincinnati in 2013. Harrison then “retired,” but Mike Tomlin brought him back to the Steelers. Harrison played four more seasons.
Harrison was OK, no better. But the Steelers kept paying him.
But, in 2017, the minute Harrison, at 39, saw his role diminish, he turned on Tomlin and the Steelers.
Harrison skipped meetings, often sleeping through them when he bothered to attend. He wouldn’t mentor young players, something the Steelers expect from veterans. Harrison inflicted commotion until he was released.
Harrison went to archrival New England. That got up the nose of the Steelers’ locker room. He often bad-mouths Tomlin. After taking a TV job, Harrison encouraged Le’Veon Bell to end his holdout, report, then bilk the Steelers by faking injury.
Yet the Steelers brought Harrison back to Heinz Field on Dec. 2 for the 10-year reunion of the 2008 Super Bowl-winning team. (Don’t say the Steelers had to. They do lots of reunions minus Terry Bradshaw. Troy Polamalu didn’t turn up for this one.) Harrison was his usual tactless self, proclaiming “I don’t need to be forgiven.”
Then, when the latest Brown controversy exploded, Harrison showed up on social media with Brown cackling on his shoulder, both openly mocking Tomlin’s Wednesday news conference (which was playing in the background).
Harrison has quite the vendetta against Tomlin, who mostly served as Harrison’s guardian angel. Tomlin got Harrison a lot of paychecks.
Harrison has no respect for Tomlin, the Steelers or anybody but himself. He’s been a bully his entire life. Without the Steelers and the Rooneys, Harrison’s career peak would have been NFL Europe. He owes the logo more respect than he’s given. Harrison should be dead to the Steelers and Pittsburgh.
The whirlwind surrounding Brown is well-documented. He should never play for the Steelers again, nor ever welcomed back, nor put in their Hall of Honor no matter how well he played. Brown has zero to do with honor. (Same goes for Harrison.)
It’s hard to pinpoint examples of Brown going too far, because he too often has. But Brown referring to ex-Steeler Ryan Clark as “Uncle Tom” after Clark criticized him might be the most outrageous thing Brown has said.
The dictionary defines “Uncle Tom” as “a black man considered excessively obedient or servile.” How is Clark’s criticism of Brown connected in any way to race?
Brown previously played that card after reporter Ed Bouchette wrote something he took exception to, calling Bouchette a racist. Bouchette isn’t. Zero evidence.
Brown isn’t a latter-day version of Martin Luther King. You didn’t see him kneeling with Colin Kaepernick. He arrived to training camp in a helicopter, not in the back of a bus. Brown’s use of race to wage his twisted battle is horrifying and offensive.
Brown has never stood for anything meaningful. He’s never represented anything but himself.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).