Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Kontract Kapers!!

Let's just start with an admission: I am no contract lawyer. I am not an expert in Black Letter sports law. I am just a fan, a couch-based novice in the wacky world of sports salaries and negotiations.

That said, I have to shake my head in incredulity at the impunity with which athletes and coaches flaunt contracts they supposedly signed in good faith. Are contracts that flimsy? Are they worth anything?

For instance, in 1991, during contract negotiations between Scottie Pippen and the Chicago bulls, then Chicago Bulls General Manager Jerry Reinsdorf told Scottie Pippen and his agent, "Scottie, in my opinion, I think you will regret signing because salaries will be going up in the N.B.A. and if you continue being a good player, it'll turn out you're underpaid." In short, Reinsdirf told Pippen not to sign the contract he was offering him. Reinsdorf continued, "I remember him telling me at the time that he wanted the security because of the back surgery and he might be injured. I said, 'Scottie, if you sign, we're never going to renegotiate.''' Pippen signed.

So what happened? Within 3 years, Pippen complained to the media, his teammates and anyone who'd listen, that he wanted, nay, demanded a new contract. Because he felt underappreciated (athlete-speak for "wants more money"), he admittedly didn't play as hard as he could have—all memory of what his GM told him went out the window. He called his 7-year, 22-million-dollar contract "a slap in the face." Pippen felt he exceeded the contract relative to average league salaries. A question for Pippen, if he played poorly, would he have given money back, saying he didn't deserve it?

And then there's the case of Jason Giambi? To sum up, the man is caught breaking the law of not only Major League Baseball, but United States Federal Law. Is that enough to be considered a breach of contract? Of course not.

In 2005, The Deseret News wrote this about Giambi's contract with the Yankees. "The language in Giambi's contract says the team may withhold salary from a player for the 'use or abuse of any illegal substance, including but without limitation . . . ' and then goes on to list a variety of [those substances. The contract] also has a general 'other chemical abuse or dependency' clause that gives the team latitude in definition, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement."

So why on earth wasn't Giambi considered in breach of his contract? If I—my wife, my friends, or anyone I know—broke Federal Law, acted in bad faith, lied and cheated the company I worked for, I'd be fired. No question. Just, "You, get out!" Yet Giambi was not. Where can I get that kind of contract.

The reason for the sudden interest in sports contracts—and it really isn't sudden—is because of Jeff Jagodzinski. For those who don't know, "Jags" was hired two years ago to be Boston College's football coach, and has done a superlative job. However, last week, Boston College threatened to fire him. Why? Because Jags was taking an interview with the New York Jets to be their new head coach.

See, when he was hired, Jags signed a 5-year contract with Boston College. And now, Boston College has the audacity to expect to try to live up to that contract he signed.

It has become commonplace for head coaches to sign contracts, or even, extensions to their contracts, with no intent of ever fulfilling them. Indeed, Bobby Petrino left Louisville for the Atlanta Falcons just 5 months after signing a 10-year, 25-million-dollar contract. We know how that ended; Petrino left the Falcons just a few short months later, his contract there not even a memory as he left for Arkansas.

However, just because something is common doesn't make it right. Once again, I am no master of contract law, however, it doesn't seem right to me that when a person makes a pledge to do something, they should honor it. In almost every other job you can think of—the Army, for instance—if a person makes a pledge to do something for a number of years, they have to honor it. And if they don't, they pay the consequences.

Not in sports. Not only can Jags, or Petrino, or anybody not honor the contract they signed, in Jags case, if Boston College fires coach Jags, they are contractually obligated to pay him for the duration of the contract. Why? Well, for the same reason the Yankees couldn't get rid of Jason Giambi even though he broke Federal Law. It's sports, and in sports, all common sense and Common Law goes out the window.

If anyone reading this can explain it to me, I'd love to understand how someone can break the law, but not be breaking their contract. Or how someone can not honor a 10 year contract and not get in trouble. If anyone out there can understand, please let me know.


Ray said...

Good story. I could not agree more. Pippen's whining was REALLY irritating. The fools who hate Reinsdorf convieniently forget the fact of his trying to look out for Pippen's best interest. There are many great things that Reinsdorf has done for players. The list would be too long to mention here, but look at all the ex-Sox players he rewards with jobs. Once again, nice Kontract Kapers story. Hope to read more of your writing. Ray

P-Cat said...

Thanks Ray. If you have a blog, I'd love to read your stuff.