- - Monday, March 11, 2019

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“AB just disrupted a system that’s designed for us to contractually lose in. If you hate it, then hate what the other side does every day.” – Kansas City Chiefs lineman Jeff Allen via Twitter.

One of life’s great mysteries is why the masses sometimes root for the billionaires. The 90 percent outnumber the 10 percent by … let me do some quick math … 9-1. Yet, more often than it should (which is never), the majority fights among itself for scraps and cheers when the minority resists calls for upward mobility and more-equitable dispersal.

Antonio Brown is an employee, a worker hired to help a business make money. Laborers in his field earn more than the typical salary, but they also face more limitations in their freedom of choice, their ability to work where and for whom they please.

They rarely emerge victorious in contract disputes and hardly ever dictate the terms of their release.

But Brown accomplished both feats in an amazing slam dunk, posterizing the Pittsburgh Steelers and laughing on the way out.



One moment, Brown had zero dollars in guaranteed money over the next three years, plus a dysfunctional relationship with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The next moment, Brown was headed to the Raiders with $30 million in his pocket and a coach who gushes over him.

“He’s the hardest-working man, I think, in football,” Jon Gruden told reporters in December before the Raiders played the Steelers. “Hardest-working player I’ve ever seen practice. I’ve seen Jerry Rice, I’ve seen a lot of good ones, but I put Antonio Brown at the top.

Brown wouldn’t have been a good fit in Washington, a franchise ill-equipped to maximize or manage the preternatural talent. But only haters are mad at what Brown accomplished, persuading Pittsburgh to trade him and swallow $21.1 million, the biggest dead-money salary-cap hit in NFL history.

Allen took to social media to praise Brown’s maneuvering and, naturally, he was blasted with all the familiar tropes: You’re overpaid; you wouldn’t be anything without football; you wouldn’t have a degree if you didn’t play. Shut up and be thankful.

The ire really makes no sense when you think about it.

NFL deals aren’t meant to be taken seriously. The owners know it and the players know it. Teams routinely write contracts they have no intention of honoring, and players are fully aware of the fact when they willingly sign the dotted line.

When teams try to improve their financial position by making cuts or restructuring deals, fans aren’t outraged. They don’t call the practice unfair or unprofessional. But let a player flip the table — essentially what Brown did — and the outcry makes you think he shredded the very fabric of society.

General manager Kevin Colbert didn’t have a gun to his head. However, if you want to say Brown “forced” his way out, be my guest.

I’ll go with “hostile takeover,” another tried-and-true business practice.

In this case, Brown seized voting control and stripped the company of its No. 1 asset — himself. Judging by the fat guarantee he landed, financial analysts would have to applaud him for his fantastic strategy.

Players can’t help noticing, either, even though most will never possess the leverage Brown enjoyed.

“He had to do this to even have a chance of being moved,” Allen wrote. “If he would have quietly tried this, which a lot of guys do, he’d still be in Pittsburgh. Owners can move in silence because they have the power.”

That much hasn’t changed.

The owners’ general managers still favor cheap rookies over qualified veterans. GMs still hand out the smallest and most-voidable contracts imaginable, socking money into incentives that can’t be met if players become injured. The system is still stacked against the players, whose best option for wrangling more money remains holding out and acting up.

I understand that fans’ emotional investments can span generations. They buy tickets and jerseys and feel like they’re part of the team. They become frustrated and disappointed and angry when one of “their” players decides he’d rather be elsewhere.

But try looking at it from the player’s point of view.

He puts his body on the line, risking physical and mental impairment, for a team that’s ruthless when it’s time for salary-cap machinations. His next play could be his last play, and next season isn’t promised, either, regardless of his health or his contract.

No, this isn’t to suggest anyone should feel sorry for them.

But in a contest between billionaire owners and millionaire players, I’m siding with the labor every time.

If that’s not your inclination, you should ask yourself why.

⦁ Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.

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