There has been a lot of talk about the New York Jets' potential draft prospects at pick number six. However, it appears general manager Mike MacCagnan would prefer to trade down from the number six spot to garner more picks. That may create complications since there are some interesting quarterback prospects that will be available early in the first round.
It has been a while since the New York Jets have had a sustainable quarterback behind center. Mark Sanchez fit the bill for a brief period during his tenure with the team from 2009-2012. He had success throwing to a wide variety of targets including Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, and Plaxico Burress. With his arsenal of weapons, Sanchez led the team to two straight AFC Championship appearances against the Colts in 2010 and the Steelers in 2011. Three years later, Sanchez, who was once considered the Jets franchise quarterback, was released by the team due to his monumental cap charge of $13.1 million dollars.
Since Sanchez’s departure the Jets have gone through a multitude of quarterbacks including journeymen Ryan Fitzpatrick, Michael Vick, Geno Smith and Bryce Petty. Vick had a short stay in Florham Park, playing in nine games, starting three, with the Jets during the 2014 season. Last season, three of the four quarterbacks on the roster, Smith, Fitzpatrick, and Petty, saw playing time, but couldn't make the team competitive. Smith saw action in two games during the regular season but tore his ACL while getting sacked by Baltmore Ravens linebacker Matt Judon. Petty, on the other hand, posted inconspicuous numbers throughout the season, including a 56.4 completion rate, three touchdowns, and seven picks. Christian Hackenberg, the latest addition to the Jets quarterbacking depth, failed to see anytime on the field as he was inactive from week to week. Although Fitzpatrick was the most successful quarterback on the team, the Jets finished the 2016 with a 5-11 record. Further, none of the quarterbacks on the current roster appears to be the franchise’s answer in the long term.
This year’s draft has many potential interesting choices with potential upside at quarterback including North Carolina’s Mitchel Trubisky, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes. All four quarterbacks made the trip to Florham Park to visit with the team in early April, but that is no guarantee that the Jets will select one of them with the sixth pick.
Even though a quarterback seems intriguing, the Jets have glaring holes all over their roster especially in their offensive line, secondary, and tight end positions. The Jets also need to find a way to replace Brandon Marshall, a big target on the outside, who signed a two-year $11 million-dollar contract with the New York Giants this offseason. Further, during the offseason the Jets brought in veteran quarterback Josh McCown, but he is a longshot to deliver the Jets back to the playoffs.
In my opinion, Watson should be chosen sixth overall by the Jets and be the first quarterback off the board in 2017 draft. He holds a lot of value, he’s a high character player who plays for his teammates, and he would fulfill a major need for the Jets in the long term. Watson had a magnificent National Championship game against an undefeated Alabama team where he went 36/56 passing for 420 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The National Championship game could be a prelude of what’s to come in the NFL from Watson. He has experience playing on the biggest stage in all of college sports, plus he has proven that he can make plays during crunch time. Deshaun Watson has the eye of the tiger and he can help the Jets soar to new heights in their upcoming season.
Over the past 10 years College football and men’s basketball have become such huge commercial enterprises that together they generate north of $6 billion dollars in annual revenue (Riffle). On top of that, a top college coach can make as much or more than professional coaches. For example, Urban Meyer, the current head football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, was offered $24 million dollars over six years in 2011 (Gaines). Furthermore, other elite conferences such as the SEC and Pac 12 have also signed lucrative TV deals, while the Big 10 and the University of Texas have their own sports networks (Carter). Sponsors, such as Chick-fil-A and Coors, also throw big money at Division I schools in order to enhance their marketing campaigns and reach college students. March Madness is another big money maker for college sports and in 2011 Turner Broadcasting partnered with CBS to sign a 14-year $10.8 billion dollar deal for the national championship tournament (Carter). Ironically, the labor force behind the millions of dollars in college sports is the student athlete. Student athletes are supposed to be content with a scholarship that does not cover the full cost of attending college. The NCAA also rules in place that prevent athletes from taking hand outs like hamburgers, hot dogs, cheese fries, and money from alumni.
This glaring discrepancy between what football and basketball players get and what everyone else in their food chain gets has bred deep cynicism between athletes. First off, student athletes are not stupid and they look around and see jerseys with their names on them being sold in bookstores around campus. I even had the chance to play at lacrosse at a Division III school and the majority of athletics merchandise was centered on lacrosse and football. Furthermore, players, just like me, see a multitude of fans on Saturday afternoons rooting for them. In spite of that, athletes can end up putting 50 plus hours or more a week into sports, and they learn quickly not to take any courses or schedule any other extracurricular activities that could possibly interfere with film sessions, games, or practices.
Too put things into perspective, there are over 460,000 male and female athletes who participate in 23 sports across the United States (Gaines). These student athletes, namely Division I football players, have incredibly difficult schedules especially during the first week of practice in the August when they have to work out from 8:30am-10:30pm, or 14 hours a day (Isidore). That’s just the beginning; up until the season begins players are practicing a minimum of 50-60 hours per week and that does not include weekly film sessions or extra one on one meeting’s with coaches (Isidore). The workload trails off once classes begin and players have to practice a minimum of 40-50 hours per week. Once the regular season rolls around, weeks with road games usually include a 37-hour stretch that includes travel, practice, and the opportunity to sleep in a strange hotel (Isidore). Furthermore, the season is not short and it usually runs until late November, unless the team is good enough to make a bowl game. If the team does in fact make a bowl game, the team has to practice through New Years Day and they are not given a sufficient break for the holidays. Some schools, such as Ohio State, only give their athletes three days off for Christmas and they have to be back by 3pm on Christmas day. The players commitment does not end there, after the season ends players still have to spend more time on the field than most other students spend on a part time job. The players spend 12-15 hours a week weight training, 15-20 hours a week preparing for Spring football practice, and 20-25 hours a week of Spring and Summer practice (Isidore). All in all, despite the numerous hours of practice a week classes are still important in college, but classes that interfere with sports are another story entirely.
From personal experience, classes that interfere with practice or games can lead to detrimental punishment from coaches. For example, in my sophomore year at Oberlin one of teammates on the lacrosse team had a class between the hours of 4-6pm and more often than not he would be late to practice. The coaches weren’t pleased, to say the least, and they constantly made him to extra sprints after practice and move the nets off of the field. In spite of that, Oberlin continually preached that academic successes outweigh athletic ones. In other words, class always comes first no matter what the reason and a degree from college will open up many more opportunities than an athletic scholarship. Regardless of my stint in Division III athletics, Division I is a different beast entirely and players deserve to be treated as employees of the NCAA, not just amateur athletes.
The primary reason that Division I athletes are on campus is to play sports and win games for their respective schools. The NCAA can define the athletes as students but their real job is to bring money to the athletic department on Saturdays. Also, the NCAA often states that it is protecting athletes from “excessive commercialism,” which is a blatant lie. The NCAA is only protecting its revenue stream and it takes in nearly $800 million dollars a year from its March Madness contracts (Peebles). On top of that, “athletes that participate in football and basketball feel unfairly treated,” Leigh Steinberg, prominent sport agent, says. “The dominant attitude among players is that there is no moral or ethical reason not to take money, because the system is ripping them off” (Peebles). Simply put, college athletes generate millions of dollars for their perspective schools and they do not receive a dime of compensation for their work. Too put things into perspective, in the 2013-2014 season the NBA grossed $4.78 billion dollars in revenues (Gillsepie). On top of that, the average basketball player makes about $24.7 million dollars over his 4.8-year career (Gillespie). However, in 2013 the NCAA accumulated nearly $1.15 billion dollars in ad revenue, which is $200 million more than the NBA playoffs that same year (Peebles). Regardless, the tournament participants, namely the NCAA student athletes, did not receive a dime of compensation for their efforts. The University of Alabama, on the other hand, also generated an income of over $143 billion dollars in 2014 (Gillsepie). Their profit margin was greater than all NHL teams and 25 of 30 NBA teams and not a single one of its players received any money.
In other words, the NCAA system is broken and it is able to flourish when there is misconduct between coaches, players, and administrative assistants. There have been abuse scandals at numerous schools, most notably at the University of Miami. At Miami a booster was convicted of running a ponzi scheme, which provided dozens of players with money, cars, and sometimes prostitute and he is now in prison (Isidore). In spite of the disheartening actions of coaches and sometimes players there have been calls for change in the NCAA. A new breed of reformers believe the only way the NCAA can achieve any sort of integrity is to recognize that college basketball and football are big businesses similar to professional sports.
These reformers, namely the athletes themselves decided to take a chance and call out the NCAA and educational institutions for their actions in 2014. In their movement, the Northwestern athletes sent a petition to the National Labor Board of Chicago and they were given an opportunity to unionize. In other words, the player’s petition was a way for college athletes to get a seat at the bargaining table of the NCAA, where all the big money is spent and organized. In spite of the players proposed revolution to get paid, Northwestern has fought the petition with force and went as far as calling the player’s students, not student athletes (Isidore). Regardless of the schools statement the National Labor Boards decision indicates that there was enough evidence to qualify athletes as employees of the university. The athletes were getting paid in the form of scholarships, working between 20 and 50 hours a week, and generating millions of dollars for their perspective schools (Isidore). The athletes have stated that they are looking for better health care, concussion testing, four-year scholarships, and the possibility of receiving some sort of compensation for bringing in millions of dollars on Saturdays and Sundays. Northwestern and the NCAA, on the other hand, want the students focused on what matters most, doing well in school. According to NCAA records, only 2% of all college athletes reach the professional and those that do have a short career, under four years as a professional, although they make millions of dollars a year (Gillsepie). Also if the players won their perspective fight, other schools such as Duke and Stanford would be forced to abandon the Division I model of sports entirely and focus on academics. The Ivies, on the other hand, had some of the highest ranked sports teams in the 1950s but they abandoned the Division I model of college sports (Isidore). The Ivies decided that they were not going to move forward like other big name schools and maintain the academic integrity that they are known for today. As a result of that the Ivies average a measly 10,000 fans per game compared to other big name schools, such as Ohio State, which averages north of 70,000 per home game (Riffle). In spite of changing cultures of Division I schools, such as the Ivies, athletes still deserve to get paid and there are other avenues to achieve that.
This past summer the NCAA finally allowed for Division I student athletes to be rewarded with cash stipends to cover,” late-night snacks, student fees, laundry money and movies” (Isidore). Regardless, most Division I athletes are under scholarships from their perspective schools, which covers the core expenses of room and board. The stipends are supposed to cover the cost between scholarship money and what it really costs to attend school. The stipends are not extraneous amounts of money; they only range from $2,000 to $5,000 dollars per year and according to CNN Money they are offered at the majority of Division I schools across the country (Isidore). The new stipend is a step in the right direction for student athletes that come from poor families but it is not enough to make serious dent in the culture of college sports. Also, the stipends are only for athletes that participate in revenue sports, such as basketball and football (Isidore). Other student athletes who participate in non-revenue generating lacrosse, volleyball, and soccer do not have any avenues to receive any money but there are other ways to pay athletes, such as a salary cap system.
Each Division I school would have a certain salary cap, just like professional sports do, but it will be significantly smaller. In basketball, the salary cap would be $750,000 dollars and football would be $4 million. It is not unbelievable to think that college programs could afford this as Jim Harbaugh made north of $7 million dollars this season (Nocera). There would also be a minimum salary for players, nothing lower than $25,000 dollars per season (Nocera). The players obviously wouldn’t be rolling up to school in fancy cars but they would have the ability to enjoy college and not have to worry about finances. Only half of the salary cap will be used on players, especially in football, the rest would be for recruitment (Nocera). For example, if two colleges were jockeying for a player one could offer more than another. The choice, for the athlete, would not be made of the school itself but the money offered by each one. The money might also encourage athletes to stay in school for 3-4 years and finish out their education. Regardless, in order have a salary cap their needs to be a union that represents the athletes, similar to what Northwestern was trying to achieve. It just so happens that the National College Players Association already exists and they would negotiate with the NCAA to create the minimum salary cap, TV deals, and marketing revenues (Nocera). The athlete’s scholarships would also cover up to six years of college so that they would have an opportunity to finish out school after they are done playing their respective sport (Nocera). What does this mean for non-revenue producing sports? Well athletes in these respective sports such as soccer and lacrosse would have a smaller salary cap then football but they would still be able to receive money.
The salary cap is a positive move for Division I college sports and it will open up many opportunities for athletes in and out of sports. The longer scholarship will allow athletes to finish school and receive a degree and they will be able to enjoy college while doing it. Paying athletes is the correct move for college athletics and it needs to be implemented as soon as possible.
On opening day for Major Leagues Baseball’s 2017 season, there is still hope for the sport that was once considered America’s pastime. Facing multiple rival sports, baseball is again seeking to reunite with its past glory, with the focus on future players and young fans, with some help from veterans who played the game, it should be played. Baseball has always had an advantage over other sports since Opening Day comes at exactly the right time. Football season begins just as school and work begin to ramp up after a lazy summer. Basketball and hockey begin as winter rolls in; they only offer a small escape from the treacherous winter weather, Christmas rush, icy roads, and days without sunshine.
However, Baseball’s Opening Day comes at the perfect time, especially as the days begin to stretch out and coats get buried in the back of the closet. On top of that, the dreams of summer vacation and days at the swimming pool begin to feel real. Only a small group of people walk through the great halls of Cooperstown in the winter, but as the weather improves more and more they begin to come. Some come to see the plaques of the all-time greats, while others enjoy the integral spirit of baseball’s greatness.
Further, many people make the trip to upstate New York to be immersed in the unique language of baseball after a long winter without the game. Most the language that was used in baseball ceases to make sense now. Baseball used to be played with actual clubs, players got together in the clubhouse, smoked cigars, talked business, and focused on spending time outside of the workforce. Baseball players weren’t always fully groomed athletes, some had large guts, others couldn’t run the bases with fervor, but most used baseball as an escape from the terrors of factory work. Today, players dress in a locker room and they pitch the ball overhand instead of under, unlike the early days of baseball in the 1850s. Pitchers are also split into several categories including starters, relief pitchers, and closers. Although the language of baseball is continually changing the sport itself has remained relatively constant since its inception. There are at least ten players on the field at one time but the sport itself has grown into something more, it is bigger than just hitting, pitching, fielding, and practicing.
Baseball, unlike football, basketball, and hockey is indeed more than just a sport. Its designation as a pastime hints at its essential conservatism as an activity of a vanished civilization where leisure was valued with human creativity. With regards to leisure, baseball best mirrors the condition of freedom that all Americans strive to be a part of. That all came to a head when Jackie Robinson began to break down the color barrier in 1947. When Robinson first started playing on the same field as whites he did not receive a standing ovation for his efforts. He was often ridiculed by opposing teams as well as his own teammates but he continually fought for equality with his elegance on the field and tough minded attitude. Over the course of his first two seasons with the Dodgers Robinson stayed in hotels with whites, ate at their restaurants, America took a giant leap away from its troubled past. Baseball became integrated a year before the military and nearly 17 years before the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. However, Robinson’s breakthrough into the Major Leagues was a dreadfully slow process. While Robinson could play at the Major-League level many other stars such as Josh Gibson and Oscar Charles were denied entry during their careers. This dual-segregated system provided an opportunity for talented players from both races to showcase their skills in a “separate but equal” setting. Just like the strategic thinking of Martin Luther King Jr., someone needed to step up to integrate professional baseball to prolong its future. Branch Rickey took the reins on this escapade and he signed Jackie Robinson not simply because it was the morally correct thing to do, but Robinson made the Dodgers a better ball club. In his first year with the team he lead team to the National League pennant and won Rookie of the Year honors. While Robinson’s movement drastically changed the political environment of the sport in the late 1940s, baseball has yet to have a single protest during the political turmoil of 2017. Although 2017 is a new era both politically and socially, Robinson created a template for future generations to follow. Today, with the advent of social media speaking out against important issues is as important as ever and MLB players must use their platform to create change. Baseball players can no longer hide behind the confines of a stadium, they must speak out by creating simple tweets, a Facebook post, or even a comment at a press conference. Change is needed now, especially with the protests going on at many high schools around the country.
Today, when entire high school sports teams are waging silent protests by kneeling on the sideline during the national anthem, there has yet to be a single baseball player stand up for what they believe in. There is a reason for that, according to USA Today African Americans comprise 68% of the player population in the NFL and a whopping 74% in the NBA. However, in baseball that number is just 8%, with only 69 African Americans on opening-day rosters and disabled lists this season. The low percentage of African Americans in the MLB is a culmination of several issues that are directly related to pay-for-play youth baseball leagues. Over the past 15 years pay-for-play youth baseball has grown immensely with families who are willing to pay coaches. It has become a standard for parents of “elite” kids to pay up for travel leagues that play up to 130 games per season. This theory is based on the more you pay, the farther you travel, the better you become. Simply put, baseball in America has become a sport for the rich. While this may be the case the African Americans in the MLB face problems of their own, especially with racial issues at hand.
Despite the drastically low population of African Americans in baseball, change is needed throughout the sport to create a dialogue between players, fans, and front office managers for current political issues. This doesn’t mean that anyone who comes out and protests racial inequality, immigration, or politics in general will be banished from baseball entirely. Still, baseball is a conservative sport where players play in front fans from across the country over a dreary 162 game schedule. On top of that, baseball players play in front of more fans than any other sport throughout the course of the season and they constantly face ridicule around every corner.
While baseball players face a tough road to engage in politics there are some who have decided to stand up for what they believe in. Adam Jones, an outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, is one of the most outspoken African American players in baseball and he constantly emphasizes with the injustices that minorities face every day. He is continually reminded of the incidents of police brutality in his own city that have unfairly targeted minorities. He was also an important voice for the city in the aftermath of the protests that followed the death in police custody of Freddy Gray, which forced the Orioles to play a 2015 game in an empty stadium.
Jones would like to see change in his community, as well as many others across America, but he stands at attention during the national anthem just like everyone else before games. However, shortly following the Kaepernick protest Jones stated that the MLB is a “white man’s game,” and got the conversation started. The fact is that the First Amendment gives everyone the chance to express themselves in any way that they see fit. However, African American baseball players face a lot of challenges when they want to speak out against social injustices in American society today. Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia even called it “awkward” for any of baseball’s relatively few African American players to speak out.
Sabathia isn’t the only one who feels that the lack of African American representation in the sport drastically changes their behavior on social issues. Chicago outfielder Jason Heyward, who supports Adam Jones, also chimed in on the situation by stating that,” you don’t want to give anybody any extra reason to take something away from you that you worked hard for, and that’s why so many people are not going to protest in this sport” (Wittenmyer). Heyward makes a valid point that players who speak out in a sport that has not changed drastically over the past 150 years are subject to repercussions. Heyward, who supported the peaceful efforts of Colin Kaepernick is no stranger to political issues. Over the course of his career he has been part of town hall forums and he and teammate Dexter Fowler have been active in education efforts in their community back in Atlanta. Despite Heyward’s comments, he isn’t the only Chicago Cub to embrace the importance of political activism in tactical ways.
Theo Epstein, the Cubs team president respects Adam Jones in the highest regards and he is also an advocate for the social issues at hand. He also explained that,” sometimes it takes words like that to get everyone’s attention and get them to focus on some of the inequities in the world,” and the sports industry. Epstein is one of very few team presidents that embraces freedom and equality throughout his organization. He wants his players to speak out on what they believe in even if criticism is waiting for them on the horizon. Epstein’s believes that player’s experiences and perspectives matter and they will make the organization stronger. Players in the clubhouse are also on the same page.
Jake Arrieta, a starting pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, is on the same page as Adam Jones and he wants honesty from players when they speak out about social issues. He also exclaimed that,” if we speak our mind we get criticized in a negative way from it,” which is true for all athletes. Colin Kaepernick could not hide from criticisms from the media, the NFL, and more importantly his peers. However, he started the conversation on racial injustices and he was one of very few people who wanted to speak out on what he believed to be true. Heyward explained activism in sport the best: “In history some of the greatest people, whatever their ethnicity, they’re the ones that weren’t afraid to speak up. They’re the ones that weren’t afraid to be wrong. A.J. wasn’t afraid to be wrong,” with his comments on the state of the MLB.
We are now in a time where social injustices, racism, and protests are a norm and people are slowly opening their eyes to issues we continue to have in our society. African American athletes in baseball must also join the conversation about social injustices by following Adam Jones. It only takes one player to speak out and start a conversation with the rest of society about the issues at hand. Yes, there will always be a fear of backlash from society, especially with the imminent growth of social media but change is needed. African American players have more power than they know, they are leaders in their communities and they must continue to speak their mind. Adam Jones has started the conversation on social injustice in baseball, but who will follow him?