No Pain, No Gain? Athletes Sitting Out Bowl Games

Take a step in their shoes...

Playing at the professional level in any sport is quite an accomplishment and can change many athletes’ lives with one paycheck. What separates the NFL from other professional sports? High risk of injury, and in some cases one play can ruin or at least alter a player’s career. For example, last year Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith was a unanimous top 10 pick in mock drafts but in ND’s bowl game he was pushed from behind which caused him to injure his knee. Smith’s draft stock dropped tremendously and was eventually drafted 34th overall. This doesn’t seem terrible but if you compare his contract, $6.5M, to Leonard Floyd’s (OLB and 9th overall pick) $15.8M, those 23 picks can make a significant financial difference. Christian McCaffrey and Leonard Fournette have decided not to take this chance at injury and have chosen not to play their respective bowl games in order to prepare for the draft.

 

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Both players have been victims of a lot of criticism from analysts, reporters and others since they made their decision last week. After hearing the news, Ezekiel Elliot, Cowboys running back, tweeted that he would give anything to play with his brothers one more time and Derek Carr, Raiders quarterback, tweeted that he played his bowl game with a messed up shoulder but never considered not playing. I was watching ESPN First Take the other day and Max Kellerman, Will Cain and Stephen A. Smith had a great debate on the topic. Kellerman was okay with their decision and started the conversation with the statement, “Say it out loud, you should risk your professional future, your financial future and potentially your family’s financial security for generations to come, to play in the Sun Bowl”. He makes a valid point because, according to a 2013 report, 86% of college athletes live in poverty with a bulk of that percentage being football players. While that may or may not be the case for McCaffrey, the point is still valid. Cain proceeded to rebuttal against Max’s point by taking a philosophical point of view and saying these players are taking the expedient path as oppose to principle choice of honoring their commitment to their school and teammates. Stephen A. Smith, believe it or not, actually had the most moderate and logical point of view. He critiqued Cain’s point by saying that principle decision isn’t a thing in this situation because players are exploited since they have to commit to college football for at least 3 years and aren’t paid, yet make millions for the university. He then brought up the case of Jadaveon Clowney to rebuttal against Max’s point. He mentioned how Clowney was scrutinized for taking plays off to protect his body and claimed that whether an athlete takes plays off, quits during games or just doesn’t show up to games, it’s all the same and there shouldn’t be a debate on whether or not McCaffrey and Fournette are justified in their decisions.

 

Through My Eyes:

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As for my thoughts on the subject, I completely respect McCaffrey and Fournette’s decisions not to play. I think that had LSU or Stanford made the 4-team playoff, they would have played in the games. I also believe that Fournette is in a better position to sit out because he’s a projected top 10 pick and I think his draft stock could only go down from this point while McCaffrey is a late 1st to early 2nd round pick and his stock could go up if he had an amazing game. Regardless though, I’ve seen multiple articles and quotes from NFL scouts saying their decision to sit doesn’t really change their opinions on the players. I do think it is a bit of a selfish decision because it could keep their teams from winning a bowl game, which might be a big deal for their teammates who don’t have futures in the NFL. Their decision will also affect how much money their respective university makes. The Sun Bowl, Stanford’s bowl, last year paid the participating universities $2M each while the Citrus bowl, LSU’s bowl, last year paid out $4.5M to each school and with McCaffrey and Fournette not playing there will probably be a drop in ticket sales. With that being said, at the end of the day it isn’t Stanford’s or LSU’s NFL career, it’s McCaffrey’s and Fournette’s careers, so if this is what they feel is best for them, then I think that’s okay. 

SportsAlec Bose