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Point/Counterpoint: Rick Reilly's "Pay for Play"

July 16, 2011

This is our column where we wrangle every nonsensical statement a writer proclaims in their commentary. Next up is Rick Reilly of ESPN, taken from the article "Pay for Play."

For the 116th straight season, it looks as if American golf is going to get through another year without a labor stoppage. Arnold Palmers for everybody.

Not true in the NFL and the NBA -- both are in lockouts now -- but how we don't have one in golf I'll ever know. If anybody should strike, it's golfers. They have the worst deal since the Winklevoss twins met Mark Zuckerberg.
Golfers are independent contractors as opposed to employees of an organization, meaning they are free to play whenever and wherever. Your comparison is a weak one, but I'll bite anyways.

Not one of them has a guaranteed contract. In golf, you're promised zilch. You play good, you eat good. You play bad and you're suddenly working behind your uncle's pharmacy counter.

NFL contracts aren't guaranteed either and just like the PGA, the better you play, the more money you make. But why let that get in the way of a flimsy comparison that makes no sense?

Contract year? Every year is your contract year.

Per diem? Please. In golf, "per diem" translates as "What my wife gives me in the morning."

The average player (who gained exempt status for 2011, meaning the top 125 players) on the PGA Tour made $1,806,316.68 in 2010. The average NFL player made $1,900,000.  Those numbers are fairly close, but that's before we even get to average length of career, Skins games (An NFL or NBA athlete would be banned for playing in an event like the Skins game.), opportunities post-career (course design, licensing deals) or sponsorships (which every player on the PGA tour has).

Disabled list? Get real. If you break your hand in golf, you'd better have Aflac.

Are you really bringing up injuries at a time where we're finally realizing how much playing in the NFL could shorten your life span? Fine. NFL players careers last 3.5 years (and that is a bloated number due to the NFL's spin). NBA, 4.71 years. Golfers can play well into their 60's. If a PGA tour player gets injured, they can continue to make attempts at a comeback (See: Toms, David). Also, if they're legends, they can continue raking in the money well past their prime. Arnold Palmer made $36 million last year without picking up a club. Do you think Joe Namath or John Havlicek are seeing that amount of money for being who they were 30+ years ago?

You think if Tiger Woods played in the NBA he'd be limping around these past two years without a biweekly paycheck? Are you smoking oregano? In the NBA, he still would have made his many millions per year and the owner would help him wheelbarrow it to the bank.

Did you even bother doing any research for this article? If you had, you would have quickly realized that even with his injuries Tiger has continued to dominate Forbes top athlete earners list, a list he has been on the top of for the past decade. In those two years you mention, he made $179.2 million (2010 - $74.2, 2009 - $105).

Look at Greg Oden, the rarely dressed center for the NBA's Portland TrailBlazers. In four seasons, he has played 82 games. That's one season spread over four. If he were a golfer, he'd be in Columbus running a big and tall man's shop. But in the NBA, he has made $19.3 million. Nice work if you can get it.

First of all, man's shop? Its men's shop. Secondly, if Oden gets injured again, his career is probably over. Thirdly, he is only 23, mix that with his injury history and you get a guy who probably will see his last NBA check at 26 or 27. 

Golf might look as though it's all cashmere and courtesy cars, but in reality, these guys get squat.

Once again, if you did your research, you would know that the top 50 highest paid golfers made over $4.88 million last year. You would also know that the median NFL salary is $770,000 and that every PGA tour player in the top-125 made over $812,000, meaning more than half of the NFL didn't get paid as well as the worst player on the PGA tour (who qualified to keep his card).

In golf, you pay for your own transportation, your own meals, your own medical, your own lodging. You think Tom Brady pays his own bill when he checks out of the Miami Four Seasons? Phil Mickelson does.

Do you think Tom Brady will make $40 million at the age of 40? Are you smoking oregano? Phil did that last year. As for Tom, the most he's made in one season was $32 million in 2006. He was 29 at the time. 

LeBron James can stink up the finals like 80 inches of Limburger cheese and he still gets his cash. In golf, if you come to a major and freeze, all you're going home with is an ulcer.

So, if you came in second at The Masters (just like Lebron did in the Finals), you'd go home with just an ulcer? Not exactly. You would actually go home with an ulcer and $864,000 (unless you tied with someone else, as Jason Day and Adam Scott did, you would take home that ulcer and $704,000) for four days work.

You wanna see a pro golfer laugh? Tell him that the NBA players are hacked off about possibly having their average salary of $6 million trimmed in this lockout. Do you know how many guys on the PGA Tour made that last year? One: Jim Furyk.

Once again, research, it's quite easy. Just bookmark Google and then type in your search phrase or topic. Also, 37 golfers made over $6 million last year.

The only tiny morsel golfers have negotiated for themselves is that every year on Tour, a set of 125 guys are promised a chance to make a living. This is not to be confused with promised a living. If you can get there, you have a tee time, but only half of you will be cashing a check.
"We do have one thing those guys don't," says Tom Watson, who has won the British Open five times. "We get to choose where we play. NBA players don't."

Which is huge. Last year, Luke Donald won $3 million in earnings on both the PGA and European Tour. With a Union involved, he wouldn't have been allowed to even play on the European Tour. 
True, and when golfers choose not to play somewhere, they get murdered. Kenny Perry, for instance, got ripped for not playing the British Open for many years.

Could you imagine if an NBA player refused to play in a title game or an NFL player refused to play in the Super Bowl? He wouldn't just be ripped, he'd be ostracized and named the worst thing in sports, a quitter. Be honest with yourself, Rick. Kenny Perry wasn't called out because he was a quitter, he was called out because he was passing up an opportunity most golfers would die for.

Golfers have the worst job security this side of Naomi Campbell's assistants. These guys are out there on their own skill and their own guts and their own dime, and they deserve some credit for it. You get the yips or a sore back or an ungrateful putter, we'll see you on the Hooters Tour.

Actually, most sponsors pick up the dime.  How else can you explain John Daly flying around in a private jet when he hasn't won a tournament since 2003?

Remember Trevor Immelman? Good-looking kid? Won the 2008 Masters? If he were in the NFL, he'd have signed a five-year deal for $75 million. Instead, he goes out and can't find a fairway with a course map, makes $1.3 million over the next three years, and must be wishing he had gone on to optometry school.

So, Immelman played his best golf for one week, made over a million (not including his endorsements) and continues to play/earn, and we're supposed to feel bad for him?  Maybe we would, if you didn't fail to mention at least one NFL or NBA athlete whose career was cut short due to a serious injury, someone like Terrell Davis or Jamaal Anderson.

But none of that is what would drive your basic American multimillionaire team-sport union-backed jocks nuts. 

What would drive them nuts is the part of golf's unspoken contract that says: You call your own fouls. On yourself. Even if nobody saw it. Can you imagine if guys called fouls on themselves in the NBA?

Unspoken? It's in the fucking rule book (USGA 2011-2012 rule book: Rule 6-6d).

We'd still be waiting.

Let me get this straight. You're telling me that NFL and NBA athletes who most likely won't last past their 26 birthday, can be released at any given moment, risk life-changing injuries, have no freedom whatsoever in sponsorships on the field past what shoes they wear and risk not getting paid next year due to labor negotiations are lucky to be locked out. Golfers on the other-hand get the short end of the stick despite making more money for a much longer period of time, having the freedom to play any event they choose,  and risk at-most a bad back (which might be worse if they didn't play a sport professionally) injury-wise. We're also supposed to laud golfers for calling penalties on themselves when there is a T.V. camera following every move they make, despite the fact that having rules officials for every group (that would be 35 total on the course) would be fiscally insane and players who cheat run the risk of disqualifying themselves, ruining their reputation and losing any money they would have earned if they would have just taken the penalty. Yeah, that seems about right.


Teach said...

can't believe he used the phrase "are you smoking oregano"

July 18, 2011 at 10:46 PM
Teach said...

Okay, Mike, no offense to you, but I couldn't make it through the whole thing. It's not your fault really, and it's not mine either--it's Reilly.

July 18, 2011 at 10:50 PM

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