With all the talk about the NFL lockout, collective bargaining agreements, salaries, owners and the drama surrounding the football world it was interesting to find myself recently at the Ed Block Courage Awards in Baltimore, MD.
Each year, the Ed Block Courage Awards honors those National Football League players who exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. This award is unique in that the recipients are selected solely by a vote of their teammates. Every fall all thirty-two teams conduct a vote that results in each team selecting their Ed Block Courage Award recipient for the year. That recipient then comes to Baltimore for a polished high profile award banquet.
It was an amazing 2 days of receptions, luncheons, presentations and community events. Rubbing shoulders with NFL players and their wives was fantastic but even more amazing was to really get to know these superstars as real people with real lives and real cares and real concerns.
Charles Woodson is a six time Pro Bowl Cornerback and the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, while Dwight Freeney is regarded as one of the most prolific pass rushers ever to play the game. Yet both of these guys were really available and totally approachable. This year’s class also features a whole host of other Pro Bowl veterans including Jacksonville Jaguars DE Aaron Kampman, Carolina Panthers OT Jordan Gross, and Detroit Lions Kicker Jason Hanson. Kampman is a nine-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler. Gross is an eight year veteran and 2008 Pro Bowl selection. Hanson has been kicking for the Detroit Lions for 19 seasons and was a Pro-Bowler in the 1998 and 1999 seasons.
The commonality among these players is that they all had to overcome some adversity to play in the 2010 season. Freeney had to come back from a crippling ankle injury. Gross had 2 broken bones and so on.
As I go to know these men I found that each of them are also involved in giving back to their communities. Ma’ake Kemoeatu of the Redskins and his brother launched a foundation in Hawaii focused on keeping kids in high school through graduation. Nick Eason of the Steelers works with a charity giving back to his old neighborhood. Britten Colquitt of the Denver Broncos is on his way to Haiti with Convoy of Hope, a charity feeding children around the world.
These men are givers not takers. They are men that value their community and the people in their lives. And as you got to talk to their wives you begin to understand that they are husbands and fathers with fears and concerns, as all of us guys do, about providing for their families, not just today but also in the uncertainty of tomorrow as well.
So as the Collective Bargaining Agreement talks come into focus and the news and pundits go on and on about the wealth and oddities of NFL players we need to remember these 2 facts.
- The career of the average NFL player tends to be short. The National Football League is extremely competitive, so players must compete hard to keep their jobs against new players entering the league every year. The injury rate among NFL players is also extremely high. Careers often end suddenly when players can no longer perform at a high level. According the NFL Players Association, the average career of an NFL player is 3.3 years.
- The median salary in the NFL in 2009 was roughly $770,000. In 2008 it was about $720,000. The Steelers have the highest median salary at $1.1 million, the Packers the lowest at $440,000. Given that the average length of a Gridiron player’s career in NFL is 3+ years, average Green Bay salary of $440,000 means that after tax they earn less than $1 million total career earnings hampered by the fact there is nowhere else to play as Leagues have folded.
These players have dreams and aspirations, as we all do, for our children and grandchildren to come. They have the innate desire to provide for their immediate and extended family. They all desire to get to a place where they do not outlive their finances. They all want to work/play the game for which they have all trained their entire adult life.
So all this talk about the players having master leverage, I cannot see has much merit. The Ed Block Courage Awards gave me an opportunity to meet these men who I know for certain are thinking about one thing right now; “How will I feed and care for my family?”