Why player holdouts make sense

Javon Walker's season is over. The Pro Bowl wide receiver suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Sunday's loss to the Detroit Lions. Surgery and rehab will take between eight and 12 months. That means Walker may not be back in time for opening day next season even under the best of circumstances.

The amazing thing is that barely six weeks ago, the Packers organization wasn't even sure if Walker's season would begin by Week 1. Walker had threatened to sit out training camp because he was not happy with his contract. The fourth-year pro from Florida State had a breakthrough season in 2004, catching 89 passes for 1,382 yards and 11 touchdowns. Walker signed on with agent Drew Rosenhaus in April and immediately wanted to renegotiate his contract. Walker's present deal called for him to earn a base salary of $515,000 in 2005 and $650,000 in 2006, far below the rate your typical Pro Bowl wide receiver earns these days.

Holdouts by players are upsetting and dishonorable. Millionaire athletes come across as spoiled and unrealistic to the average guy on the street when they refuse to work for a half-million dollars per-year to play a game. If you sign a contract, honor it and live up to your word. Most fans seem to feel that way whenever there's a holdout, especially when the player is on their favorite team.

Brett Favre also spoke out against Walker's decision to skip mini-camp this spring because the Packers refused to renegotiate his contract. Favre told the "Green Bay Press-Gazette," "If Javon wants to know what his quarterback thinks, and I would think he might, I'd tell him he's going about this the wrong way. When his agent tells him not to worry about what his teammates think and all that stuff, I'd tell him I've been around a long time and that stuff will come back to haunt you."

Suddenly, Walker's injury puts his near-holdout in a very different light. Walker is 26-years-old. He may not ever be able to resume his career at the same level he was at before this major injury. That was one of the reasons Rosenhaus said he didn't want Walker to play for the Packers this year under his current contract.

"I have several concerns," Rosenhaus said early this summer. "One is equity. I don't feel that it's fair that Javon should play at that number ($515,000). I've stated that. Two, injury is a major concern."

Rosenhaus explained his position by telling reporters, "It is business. In every other profession it goes on. But people want to nail the athletes (because) they have a contract, and they make millions of dollars. It's all relative, baby. It's OK for Tom Cruise to make $50 million a movie? But a guy who risks his life can't get paid a decent wage? B.S. I'm not standing for it."

Injury. The word haunts every NFL player. Any play could be your last. In rare cases, it could be the last time you walk again, ala Darryl Stingley or Dennis Byrd. The average NFL career lasts less than four seasons. Competition for jobs is fierce, but injuries are a major reason NFL careers are so short. The human body can take only so many collisions before something gives way. Yes, NFL players make a lot of money, but the opportunity to earn more money may be over by the time they are 26. After their career is over, most former football players do not have a chance to earn that kind of money again for the rest of their lives.

In the NFL, if a player is unable to return to play the year following an injury, the team will waive him and owe him no money despite the fact that he has a signed contract. That's the business end of football. It's cold. It's reality. When you can't perform any longer, the team has no need for you.

So now, Walker is facing a long, challenging rehab. Most Packers fans won't see or appreciate the hard work he is going to put in between now and next season just to get the chance to return to the Green Bay lineup. Walker has no guarantees but is determined to return.

Holdouts are messy and remind me of the business side of the game. But the recent injury to Walker explains why they take place and where players and agents are coming from when they make the decision to withhold a players' services.

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." - Atticus Finch, "To Kill a Mockingbird."

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