Trevor Lawrence recently found himself in the dumbest controversy of draft season, with comments he made to Sports Illustrated’s Michael Rosenberg. In the story, Lawrence says that he has no pressure.
This, of course, set off all of the football dudebros who said Lawrence “wasn’t a competitor, or this laid back persona “doesn’t translate to winning.” Some scouts even said that there is a “90 percent chance” Lawrence is a bust. Because of these comments.
HOW DO YOU MEASURE BUST CHANCE?
The conversations surrounding Lawrence and the comments he made are troubling to me because it feeds into a sports culture that isn’t healthy for the players, or the fans. This football 24/7, 365 days a year culture isn’t beneficial to players in a league where your shelf life isn’t exactly the longest.
According to Leslie Bloom of Chron.com, the average NFL career is about 2.5 years. When you control this for position, the quarterbacks average career is... three years.
Of course, there’s the variable of draft position, which grants you more years in the league, even if you’re average. But on a large scale, the NFL truly stands for Not For Long. Now, we factor in the average salary of an NFL player, which Jim Woodruff estimates is about $860,000. Again, the variable is draft spot. Joe Burrow was a number one draft pick last year, and he made $23.9 million just as a signing bonus. Even still, not everyone on an NFL roster is making that type of money.
So you’re probably asking... “Okay, where are you going with this?”
In a sport where people subject themselves to minor car accidents on every play, there has to be a plan for after your time playing is over. Players can’t get too attached to the game, because once the game is done with them, there is no coming back. Faulting Trevor Lawrence for thinking about a career or a life outside of football isn’t only stupid, it’s short-sighted. Ridiculing Lawrence for his knowledge that he doesn’t need the game is idiotic, and inconsiderate of the people who have to actually put on the helmets and play football so we have something to do on Sunday afternoons.
However, these ideas are reflective of a culture we’ve built around sports and athletics. The culture of winning at all costs. Any way that a player can help the team win is fair game. But what happens when the team doesn’t need you anymore? Or when your body gives out?
I can’t help but think about former Colts QB Andrew Luck, who retired in the prime of his career due to multiple injuries. He wasn’t attached to the game, and when he felt his time was up playing, he was ready to leave. He had a plan ready.
Which is why Lawrence’s comments to Sports Illustrated are incredibly mature. Knowing that he doesn’t need the game, but is still driven to be the best person he can be is a stance that most players, let alone top draft picks, don’t have. Knowing that he can walk away from the game and be completely fine is an incredibly poignant stance by a player who is only 21 years old.
As for fans... why in the world do we care? If a player has goals outside of football, it really shouldn’t matter to us. Trevor Lawrence saying he doesn’t need football doesn’t affect how I watch the game, nor will it have any effect on Lawrence’s career. So why do we care so much?
My hypothesis? The reason fans care so much is because we’re conditioned to care about the name on the front of the jersey, rather than the name on the back. For some reason, fans identify more with the business, rather than the workers — which is quite hilarious considering America’s history of revolutions against bigger groups who “own” them.
The NFL is a business, one that can hire and fire employees at any time. Its’ workers put their bodies on the line for our entertainment, but when they decide to retire early, or say they don’t need the sport, they’re met with vitriol. Some fans have become so attached to the team concept that they’re willing to compromise the well-being of the players that are actually on the team.
So, in the end, it really doesn’t matter that Lawrence said what he said. But the reactions to it reveal a damning idea of football culture.