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When The Bond Between Teams And Players Goes Sour


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And it's time to talk sports.


MARTIN: Everyone knows that in sports players and coaches come and go, 'cause it's just business, except when it's not. NPR's Mike Pesca has some insight into some particularly bad working relationships in both the NFL and the MLB. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello. How are you doing?

MARTIN: Hello. You and I - good relationship. Good.

PESCA: That's right.


PESCA: Not much money at stake.

MARTIN: That's true. So, there are bad relationships and then there are really bad relationships I'm thinking. A-Rod and the Yankees.

PESCA: Right, exactly. So, to get there, let's just note that as you say, you know, whenever players come, whenever players go, when sometimes beloved players have to, quote-unquote, "have to" leave the team, it's always posited that, you know, it's an unsentimental business, it's driven by the bottom line. I don't think the Celtics wanted Garnett and Pierce to go, but it would just cost too much to keep them.

But then you have what's going on with Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees. Now, Alex Rodriguez, of course, faces a large suspension; what would be the largest suspension ever meted out to a player, short of a lifetime ban - 211 games - for using performance-enhancing drugs. The Yankees, his team, have not exactly rallied to Alex Rodriguez's side. In fact, the Yankees have all but said, yeah, I don't know. It looks kind of big in the locker room. See, the issue is not just did he do it or being a good citizen or things like that. Alex Rodriguez, he makes an enormous amount of money - $25, $24 million a year. If you do the math on the 211 games, the Yankees, that's $34 million in salary. If Alex Rodriguez was hurt, the Yankees would have to pay Alex Rodriguez. If Alex Rodriguez was rehabbing an injury and working in the minors, they'd have to pay Alex Rodriguez. But if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended for steroid use, they do not have to pay Alex Rodriguez.

So, this is this huge get out of - not jail - but financial commitment card. And there's another wrinkle to this, which is a little bit of an arcane rule, but the Yankees very much want to get down to under $189 million in total salary. And this ruling could very well be the difference if they make that number or if they don't. And if they make the number, they'll be able to reset all their spending. They'll be able to spend much more money for a decade. But if they don't make the money, they'll be so penalized that the Yankees teams that we'll see for a decade going forward will be entirely different. This is not just a big statement by the commissioner, this is the biggest financial decision in sports that I can think of since I've been covering it.

MARTIN: OK. So, let's flip over to the NFL. There was a high-profile firing this past week. Josh Freeman of Tampa Bay was let go. What happened there?

PESCA: It was a firing. And this is what I think is fascinating. So, as we, you know, I always caution people - it's not that the Yankees are bad people or Alex is a bad person - or maybe it is - but that's all because of money. So, the Josh Freeman thing is crazy. The coach stripped him - Greg Schiano - stripped him of his captaincy before the season. You don't do that a quarterback if you want him to be the leader of the team. They said he missed a photo. Then they benched him, they started smearing him. It would seem that people within the Buccaneers leaked this information that he was taking drugs - not performance-enhancing - but for - Josh Freeman countered: Actually, I take drugs because I have Attention Deficit Disorder. It's Adderall. So, it was this nasty back and forth...

MARTIN: They just don't like him.

PESCA: It would seem. And I'm trying to find out what the contractual status. And from everyone I talk to and everything I've read, there is none. There is no bottom line to this just to this except they just kind of hate Josh Freeman. And Freeman's gone and it just kind of reminds you that as much as sports is businesslike, it could also be driven by, you know, ridiculous, impetuous and petty people.

MARTIN: Real quick - curveball.

PESCA: I don't understand who buys the wild card T-shirt. If your team in the playoffs makes the wild card round, they sell a T-shirt. You know, Cincinnati Reds - Wild Card. But if you buy this and they lose, like the Reds did, you kind of feel like a chump. And if they win to go onto a different round, I mean, it's sort of like bragging about your junior high school diploma if you're a graduate student.

MARTIN: But it's also when you're in junior high. There's a moment for it. There's a moment.

PESCA: There's definitely a day and a half where the wild card T-shirt makes sense. That is my curveball: who buys this wild card stuff?

MARTIN: There you go. Our own wild card, NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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