Trades Cause Major Personal Disruption

Professional sports is such a cut-throat industry. Last month, the New England Patriots traded DE Richard Seymour to the Oakland Raiders, and within 24 hours the New England Patriotshad no comment about why he had not arrived in Oakland. Seymour said there were “personal issues” concerning his family that he needed to address before moving from Massachusetts across country to California. These are real issues that must be addressed when a player is caught off guard when a trade or roster move happens that directly affects them.

The Philadelphia Eagles recently re-signed a quarterback they previously had who took them to the playoffs in relief of Eagles QB Donovan McNabb who had suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2006.  Exactly two weeks and one day after signing QB Jeff Garcia to a contract, the Eagles basically told him to “get out” as his services were no longer needed. Earlier this week, the Miami Dolphins placed QB Chad Pennington on the Reserve/Injured list and traded for then Kansas City Chiefs QB Tyler Thigpen.

The common thread here is that all of these player’s lives were disrupted at a moments notice and there is really nothing they can do about it. I have tired to explain this conundrum to a couple friends of mine in causal conversation, who have never had the opportunity to play professional sports and have no empathy when stating, “Aw man, those guys make tons of money! They will be just fine when they are traded.” While the later may be true, the former is not as smooth a transition as many may think.  The money is well more than the average salary of the everyday blue-collar worker, the disruption of life is really no different anyone else would have to endure with a lot of confusion and uncertainty.

Imagine working your current job/position for the past five years doing quite well, and as you read this blog post to start your day, a person from Human Resources taps you on your shoulder and says you no longer work here, you have to leave now because your position is now being transferred to the other side of the country, or your services are no longer needed here. There is no indication that times are bad; nothing pointing to the fact that your job/position may be in jeopardy. What do you tell your children? What do you say to your spouse? What do you do?

That hypothetical example is how it is everyday for professional athletes. Most professional athletes do not understand this reality until their third or fourth year as a professional athlete, provided they last that long. Once a player reaches his third or fourth year, he has the previous hypothetical on his mind everyday, hoping that person from “Human Resources” (actually, it is usually a representative from the Personnel Department) to tap them on the shoulder and say “[Head] Coach wants to see you and bring your playbook.”

I will never forget standing on the practice field in the back of the practice facility one afternoon as the clock approached 1:30pm. I had known around 8:00am that morning we (Personnel Department, Head Coach, etc.) were releasing (cut, terminate, waive, kick out, etc.) a player, and bring another prospective player in to replace him. I had already set up the flight information for the new prospective player after speaking with his sports representation. At the time, it was not my responsibility to inform the current player that he was going to be released. But what was most shocking was that this player had walked out on to the patio of the practice facility, began stretching and limbering-up his muscles, when the person responsible for informing him of his fate came out the door behind him, tapped him on his shoulder and that was the last I ever saw of this player in person.

That showed me right then and there, professional athletes are only in control of making plays on the field and nothing more.

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