Is the goal of NFL players the ring or respect?by J.W. Miller on 06/04/18
Today’s question is ‘what is more important to an NFL player: respect or a ring,” in this context, the Super Bowl variety? The subject arose in a column by Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal, (my favorite active scribe, by the way), who wrote Monday about the New England Patriots mini-camp. Gay loves to skewer Coach Bill Belichick, whom he calls the “Grumpy Lobster Boat Captain,” and the column painted the Pats as the NFL’s version of Dante’s Inferno.
Sure, they win, but they don’t have fun doing it! Gay quoted Cassius Marsh, who spent a few games with the Patriots last season before he was cut, as saying his time in New England was “nasty, brutish and short.” Said Marsh: “They don’t have fun there. There’s nothing fun about it. There’s nothing happy about it. I didn’t enjoy any of my time there…It made me, for the first time in my life, think about not playing football, because I hated it that much.” Marsh’s release also might have been prompted by his throwing a Gatorade jug in a locker room tantrum over playing time, but that’s just bonus information for you.
Gay also quoted Eagles OT Lane Johnson, a frequent Pats critic, as saying “You can have the rings. You can also have [expletive] fifteen miserable years.” These words are not the first criticism of what has been described as “the Patriot Way,” and now it seems to be smoldering from within. Tom Brady is not attending off-season workouts after Belichick booted his personal trainer from the premises and sidelines, which apparently has left the all-world QB feeling under-appreciated and disrespected.
So what do NFL players want today, respect or a Super Bowl ring? Can they have both? Apparently, the Saints believe those two benefits are not mutually exclusive. Two-way respect is something you hear about the Saints organization which is considered one that cares for its players and is fair with them. That certainly comes from the top, from Coach Sean Payton and GM Mickey Loomis, and owner Tom Benson’s death will not likely change that.
How does a professional athlete define respect? The examples above that question respect as part of the “Patriot Way,” come from a broad sampling: a fringe cut, the team’s best player and an opponent. One athlete might define respect as the appreciation of his fellow players and coaches for his professional accomplishments. Then there’s the too-often example of a player embroiled in a contract dispute who doesn’t get what he wants so he throws the old “lack of respect” excuse. That always sounded to me like an old Jim Finks aphorism: “You can love a player at one price and hate him at another.”
You might also say that a player who complains he isn’t respected is merely an egotistical shell who craves the worship of others. Respect is one thing, blind sycophantic adulation is another. I respect players who understand their position vis-à-vis their own teammates and among players around the league at his position. Although you might never hear them say it, there are many players in the league who are happy to be doing what they are doing for the salary they are receiving. But that opinion will forever stay private because other factors enter into a player’s “RQ,” or “Respect Quotient.”
Players hear from their family and friends that they are being underpaid which must be because their team doesn’t respect them. Most players have agents, some of whom tell the player he’s better than such-and-such who plays for another team who is making more money and, don’t worry, because I’m going to use that in your next contract negotiation. And that’s where the Patriot Way treats players like I treat golf balls. Don’t fall in love with one because you might hit it into the lake. Just tee up another one and swing.
And so far, it has worked pretty well for them. Which is to say that whether the Patriots players play for respect or for the ring, I’d guess they’re a pretty happy bunch when they've won again and they slip the next bauble onto their fingers.