Certainly, one of the most important puzzle pieces in a life lived as successfully as it can be lived involves the decisions we make. And, while rash decisions, perhaps not being able to resist that compulsion to answer a text while operating 4,000 pounds’ worth of motor vehicle, can lead to devastating and even fatal consequences, there are those other decisions that can cost people dearly when it comes to their careers and their earning potential.
I thought about that last week when I heard that NFL player Jason Pierre-Paul, a defensive end for the New York Giants, signed a one-year deal that, with performance incentives, could be worth by season’s end more than $8 million. Reports say he may be ready to play later this month or at least by early December coming off a non-football related injury to bolster a defensive line that is second to last in rushing the quarterback.
Now, those of you who can’t resist shaking your heads each time you hear of the colossal amounts of cash professional athletes make can shake the old bean even harder because that amount is far, far less than what Pierre-Paul could have earned had his decision-making skills been better.
If you follow sports at all, you probably heard of Pierre-Paul’s interesting summer away from the wars of professional football. The Giants had offered the player bearing the moniker JPP a couple of options for a new contract to keep him from signing with another team. Were Pierre-Paul to have signed a one-year, $14.8 million franchise-tag deal, he would have been in line to make more money than everyday working stiffs could make in multiple lifetimes. Additionally, there was also a five-year, $60 million offer on the table he also could have signed. Life, I’m sure, through June, seemed rife with economic possibilities for the 26-year-old player just entering his prime.
Then came that good old red, white and boom holiday, the Fourth of July, when so many Americans just can’t seem to resist playing with fireworks, which, if you’re a professional athlete whose bread is buttered using both your hands to snatch opposing players and drive them to the turf, seems like a monumentally poor decision where the potential risks far, far outweigh the rewards.
Instead of protecting his chief asset, the athleticism that few in the world possess and all that comes with it, JPP decided to play with fireworks powerful enough to wreak havoc. The premature combustible took part of his right thumb and destroyed the same hand’s index finger, so much so that what was left had to be amputated.
I couldn’t help thinking about an old college roommate of mine from Paulding, once a promising premedical student with an eye on a career as a surgeon, that is, before the summer when he decided to celebrate the Fourth of July by attempting to throw an M-80 out of a car window, only to have it bounce off the window’s frame and land in his lap. While trying to throw it again, it detonated, simultaneously destroying both his right hand and a preferred career.
Given the Giants’ need for a dominant pass rusher, I suppose team officials are comfortable with the one-year trial, and if Pierre-Paul can prove he is just as good at shedding blocks and tackling with eight and a half fingers as he once was with 10, he may eventually reach higher money plateaus. We’ll see. Those who cover the game estimate at this time Pierre-Paul’s decision to play with fire(works) has cost him anywhere from $6 million to $15 million. If he proves he can no longer play as he once did, those numbers will spike when he no longer will be deemed employable in the NFL.
Now, every time I read such a story in sports when a really bad decision winds up costing someone with preternatural athletic skills wheelbarrows full of cash, I have to question whether most of the players that we sports fans watch intently value money anywhere close to how those who slug it out for a modest living wage value it.
In my teaching days, it took me 18 years to earn $20,000 a year. This year, Laker guard Kobe Bryant, at a salary of $25 million due will make more than $300,000 for EACH of his team’s 82 regular-season games.
The ongoing and compelling Pierre-Paul tale for me brings to mind a quotation from my favorite go-to literary guy, Mark Twain, who once wrote, “Put all your eggs in one basket and … WATCH THAT BASKET.”
And, that’s a quotation that should carry a lot of weight for all who rely on their physical skills to earn their millions. Until age and diminishing skills rob a professional athlete of the chance to collect their millions of eggs in their huge baskets, I think they’d be wise to follow Mr. Twain’s advice.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.