I’ve always said that sports are the only thing that really brings me to any semblance of rationality in this world. For the most part, the concept of competitive sports is simple. Two sides compete for victory and there is ultimately a winner and a loser. The same cannot always be said for the socio-economic issues, political drama and world news that permeate our daily news headlines. Sports provide a sense of clarity in a world filled with obscure narratives, veiled in negative outlooks. In my continued failed attempts to make sense of mass killings, corrupt politics and racial divide, I am comforted in knowing that somehow, somewhere, there is a professional team with athletes that come from different walks of life, brought together to ultimately fulfill one goal — win.

Embedded within victory, lies the elements of the process. This process assumes many forms, however at its apex, a professional standard is formed. This standard of excellence can be found in the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ star running back, Le’veon Bell. The 26-year-old is a three-time Pro Bowler and two-time First Team All-Pro who led the NFL with 406 touches last season and finished with 1,946 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns. Suffice to say, this dude is the truth!

Although his truth has been revealed to the world, his value became apparent to himself, but not always to the ownership of his team. At the beginning of this year’s training camp in July, Bell decided to remove himself from the team, and hold out for what he believed would be a contract predicated on his incredible statistical contributions to the team. This ‘holdout,’ which for some usually last for the duration of training camp, is still ongoing. It may see its end when Bell gets traded to another team or signs as a free agent next year. So be it.

As a professional athlete, especially a football player, it is important to maximize your income to the best of your ability while you’re playing and while you can, because in the proverbial blink of an eye, your time, your health, can be taken from you — sometimes without warning. So, when players decide to sit out for a better contract that will reflect their present value, as a former pro athlete, I commend them and sympathize with their plight. Because, as soon as you’re deemed inept, expendable or past your prime, you become yesterday’s news, and perhaps an insightful segment on ESPN’s E60: “Where are they now.”

The problem with pro football is there are no guaranteed contracts. There are incentive-laden contracts that seem heavy in stature, however, very limited in content. Such is the life of a professional football player. A life with no guarantees, empty promises, and often, broken dreams. When the ball is in your hands, along with the power to make decisions that will impact not only your future but your loved ones too, you must do what’s best for yourself and not the team.

In a world filled with nonsense, knowing your own value as it relates to the current market is essential in reaping the most from a career that has little to no guarantees.

This is exactly what Bell did in sitting out and understanding his value as not only a top running back, but also a top wide receiver. Forgoing this season cost him nearly $15 million. The job action was an effort to test the waters of free agency next year, with the hope of securing a more lucrative, long-term contract. Many pundits and fans alike are undoubtedly dismayed by his decision, and potentially irritated by the optics of what seems like yet another spoiled athlete trying to milk as much as they can from a team.

In a world filled with nonsense, knowing your own value as it relates to the current market is essential in reaping the most from a career that has little to no guarantees. According to Statista.com, the average length of a player’s career in the National Football League is approximately 3.3 years. Most athletes spend upwards of 15 to 20 years preparing for those three years of fame and glory. Sometimes the means don’t justify the ends.

Former Dallas Cowboys standout receiver, Dez Bryant was recently signed by the New Orleans Saints, after being out of football and without a team for nearly half of this season. Within the first two practices with his new team, he suffered a devastating injury (Achilles tendon) and is now expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the season. Situations such as this happen all the time in the league, and often athletes are released, waived and left to eventually fade into oblivion until they become a footnote in the annals of pro football history.

Kudos to athletes such as Bell who understand that a team’s ultimate success is the positive sum of its parts and that being a part of success means keeping your own personal interests at the forefront of this effort to achieve success. Call it selfish or narcissistic. Call it what you want. It’s time the pro athlete takes back control of their own destiny.


Karim Grant is a former professional football player who has spent time in both the NFL and CFL. His love for hip-hop spans nearly three decades of beats, rhymes and fashion. His love for sports is equally expansive, as he’s made money playing one sport and has made enemies playing countless others. If he’s not on the field or the hard court coaching inner-city youth, he’s either reading or listening to your favourite artist’s favourite artist while exercising his competitive demons at your local gym. Grant has never been one to mince words on either subject of hip-hop or sports – or anything for that matter – and he’s not about to start anytime soon.

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