When my girlfriend and I argue (and for the sake of this article, let’s assume this happens infrequently), she and I have successfully adopted the practice of putting ourselves in each other’s shoes, to better comprehend where the other is coming from. More often that not, it works to a tee, our golden compromise, a mutually, respected understanding of the other’s feelings.
Using that logic, I would like to unfold both sides of the Kyler Murray and Zion Williamson contracts.
Soon to be 25-year-old Kyler Murray, star quarterback and perennial MVP candidate, recently signed a multi-million-dollar deal with the Arizona Cardinals. The contract is for five years and will pay Murray around $230 million over that span. This is the going rate for a star NFL quarterback.
His new contract stipulates, however, that he must do his homework, literally.
According to the original terms of the deal, Murray was obligated to complete four hours of independent study each week, to be checked on by the team. This clause has since been voided but not before it made national headlines. Arizona invested its future in this young man and wanted to make sure his commitment to the cause was as strong as theirs, hence the stipulation. On the other hand, assuming Murray wouldn’t take his job seriously and mandating homework assignments proved to be a delicate issue. The demand smacked of yesteryear, which wasn’t all that long ago, when the commonly shared belief was that black quarterbacks didn’t have the “necessities” to play the position.
There is another young, superstar athlete in New Orleans, named Zion Williamson, who has had problems staying on the court. In his first three seasons, he has only played 85 games. As a precaution, last season, he didn’t play at all.
Zion Williamson is a big man. Despite his immense talent, his weight has been an issue, so much so that experts still aren’t sure his ideal playing weight. Williamson’s latest contract with the Pelicans, which will pay him $193 million over the next five years, stipulates that Zion must regularly make weight to ensure that certain extras in his contract be rewarded. Making weight in professional sports is nothing new, however, listing these requirements in an NBA contract to the point where pay can be docked, is rare. Like the Cardinals with Kyler Murray, this is a franchise looking to protect its investment. They have all but mortgaged their futures on these two men becoming the respective faces of their franchises.
Try comparing the Murray and Williamson stipulations to your current profession or better yet, allow me to do so with mine. As a bartender in a privately owned restaurant, drinking on the job is generally forbidden. I say generally because it is also the kind of place where the customer will come in and offer to buy the bartender a shot. The rules can, and have, changed from strict to lax and back again, but in a familiar establishment such as ours, where toasts build camaraderie, drinking while not commonplace, will still happen, within moderation.
Let’s say my employer, like a professional sports franchise, mandates no drinking on the job, for it feels, and perhaps rightfully so, that drinking negatively affects performance and increases the risk of recklessness, just like not properly analyzing game film or playing basketball out of shape. Like Kyler and Zion, I present a unique value-added to my company yet must also adhere to the rules, despite the sensitivity of their nature.
There’s no way to prove Zion turned an ankle because he weighs too much, although rest assured someone trying to void his contract would do their best to make that argument. Basketball injuries are accidental and can happen to the scrawny as well as the svelte. Similarly, there’s no way to ensure Kyler Murray’s next bad decision is a result of him not studying the playbook long enough.
In a world where professional athletes hold all the cards, such stipulations can be construed, as Rage Against the Machine sings, efforts to take the power back. After all, it’s their money. Despite the uniqueness of their talents, Kyler, Zion and company still have bosses to answer to.
In other words, I can see where companies like the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Pelicans would want to protect their quarter of a billion-dollar investments. The wrong decision can set a franchise back for years. On the other hand, I can see where the players could see these gestures as a sign of distrust.
The more unique the talent, the more leverage they wield, but that will never stop the higher-ups from reminding them who’s boss.