Is Walker really out of line?

How time has a way of filtering out the impurities from our memories and transforming the past into enduring images that we long for the rest of our days.

All our summers used to be so much warmer, just as all our Christmases used to be so much whiter. Furthermore, our movies and music were so much more original, our TV sitcoms were funnier and our cars were more distinctive.

If we dwell on the past long enough, we almost can swear our sports heroes regularly drank milk and attended church, retired for the evening by 10 p.m. and constantly promoted the adage that there is no "I" in "team."

And now we have reached Armageddon, where it never gets warm, it never gets white and all our sports heroes have regressed from model men who flew combat missions in their spare time to greedy jackasses who are grossly out of touch with reality.

That must be the case because ever since Green Bay Packers receiver Javon Walker announced he was planning to hold out for a better contract, he has been dismissed with a disgusted wave of our hands. He has been dismissed as just another selfish punk who is listening to bad advice from some scumbag agent.

So many of us vent by grumbling that Walker should try making ends meet on a working stiff's paycheck.

Others mention the military angle and suggest Walker could use a tour of combat in Iraq to understand the meaning of proper priorities. Or to at least try and explain to American soldiers that after signing a contract a few years ago that called for a $4 million signing bonus that he is underpaid.

Meanwhile, Packers quarterback Brett Favre is embraced as this voice of reason for publicly denouncing Walker's intentions.

The feeling here is that Walker should try to get as much money as he can. And that what Favre said, as refreshing as it was for so many, can only create a divisive impact in the Packers locker room.

So Walker is some selfish kid who needs an attitude adjustment, huh? Let's just think about that for a little while.

Understand, if Walker's contract was guaranteed, then this column probably wouldn't have been written. But the fact remains that even if you factor in signing bonuses (which are typically about one third the value of a contract), NFL contracts are one-sided in favor of the team, not the player.

You don't think the Packers would hesitate wiping Walker's contract off the books the second his skills diminish or it suits their purposes? Just ask Darren Sharper what a reality that is.

So why shouldn't Walker, who developed into probably a top-five receiver in the NFL last season, use what leverage he has to better his situation?

What so many of us neglect to understand is that this is a business, a multi-billion-dollar business. And that the players we so anxiously await to watch every autumn Sunday afternoon are entertainers, just as The Eagles, Britney Spears, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Tom Cruise are entertainers.

And if the players, the people we get onto 30-year waiting lists to see, the people networks pay billions of dollars to telecast into our living rooms, aren't receiving the largest share of this pie, who should?

The owners since they're the ones taking all the risks? Considering these fat-cat owners can sell their franchises for three-digit-percent returns on their investments, someone will have to point out exactly what risks they are taking in this industry of golden eggs. Besides, aren't they the same people who routinely threaten to break their stadium contracts to broker an even better deal with some other city? Aren't they the same people who regularly reward their faithful fans with ticket-price hikes?

But how dare Walker use whatever leverage he has!

What I find so amusing is that Walker is so roundly criticized for wanting to cash in on a season in which he far surpassed expectations. And yet, whenever University of Wisconsin football coach Barry Alvarez even hinted at being interested in another job and the powers-that-be in Madison fell all over themselves to sweeten his contract, our collective response seemed to be relief rather than outrage.

Sure, let's talk about honoring contracts. Like Mike Holmgren honored his when, immediately following his last game as Packers coach in January 1999, he referred to his team during a press conference as "they" rather than "us."

Like Nick Saban honored his when he left Louisiana State to become head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Like Bill Self honored his when he left Illinois to replace Roy Williams at Kansas. Like Bill Parcells honored his at his coaching stops.

And, of course, while any of these coaches have the freedom to leave any time they have the opportunity to better themselves, they also expect to be paid in full if they are fired before the end of their contracts.

Funny how these coaches never seem to be scornfully dismissed as greedy bums like the players under them are.

Why shouldn't Walker strike while his iron is hot? Who are any of us to tell Walker, a genetic-lottery winner that constitutes the tiniest fraction of our population, that he shouldn't make as much as he can in the exceptionally short window of time he has to do so?

An acronym for the NFL is "Not For Long" and how true it is for the most violent sport on earth. And even those who survive the incredible punishment for a number of years pay so dearly in the long run, which was underscored to me by a superb biography on Joe Namath I recently finished reading.

Easily the most enduring paragraph for me in that book was this: "Osteoarthritis was setting in, creeping into bones that had taken so many hits, in his fingers and his spine. Sometimes Namath would scream from the pain. One morning in 1981, he woke unable to move. 'I thought I was paralyzed,' he said."

Can anyone really put a price on being trapped in a body like this for the rest of your life?

United Airlines employees were forced by executives to help bail out this faltering industry by accepting huge cuts in their pension along with slashed salaries. Of course, the airline's filthy rich executives have justified keeping their full pensions - and millions in bonuses - with the argument they have specialized skills.

And I always thought catching a 60-yard pass before a stadium of screaming fans and a national-television audience with two defenders hanging all over you was a specialized skill.

This is the greatest capitalistic country in the world. Let's not fault Walker for taking advantage of what capitalism represents.

We don't have to like it. But we really do need to accept it as reality.

Editor's Note: Peter Jackel is a longtime sportswriter for the Racine Journal-Times. E-mail your thoughts on his column to PackerReport.com managing editor Todd Korth at packrepted@aol.com.


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