The Dolphins want payback from Ricky Williams. Literally.
An angry Wayne Huizenga will try to recoup more than $5 million paid in incentive money to the retired Williams over the last two years, a source close to the Dolphins owner told the Miami Herald on Saturday.
''Wayne is incredibly [angry] about what Ricky did,'' the source told the newspaper. "He has his lawyers together, and he's going after all the money the team paid Ricky. He wants to make sure this never happens again."
The opening kickoff of another NFL season is a bit more than a month away, but the exhibition season begins tonight with the Hall of Fame game from Canton, Ohio. What we'll see on the field is merely the tip of the iceberg. What we won't see is the ugly reality that is life in the National Football League.
Those of us who are football fans often lose sight of the fact, if we recognize it at all, that the sport of football can be a brutal, exploitative, and severely compassion-starved bottom-line-oriented business. In a line of work where the average player's career is less than four years long, we who sit in the stands or watch on television tend to be blissfully and willfully ignorant of what a player endures in order to earn NFL money. It ain't pretty....
We may love the drama, the competition, and the controlled violence of the NFL. Is it any wonder, though, that those who suit up on Sundays often have a much different view of the proceedings?
It hurts, doesn't it?
That our football players don't seem to love their fun and games as much as we do?
We paint our faces in team colors, and we look forward to the tailgating all week and all offseason, and we escape our dreary jobs and heavy responsibilities to feel good for a few celebratory hours on Sunday.
We envy them and their youth and their money and their grace and their glory even as we live vicariously through them, and we get profoundly disappointed when they hold out, cash in, screw up, shut down or waste it all away....
But we never get our hands bloody, of course, which is part of what makes it so much easier to applaud.
These football players can't love this beast the way we do.
They know it too well.
A lot better than we do.
And you don't love a monster this cold and cutthroat.
You tolerate it. You use it for financial gain. You suffer the searing pain and redundant boredom and dictator coaches in exchange for the three-hour rush on Sunday and a fatter bank account. You do awful things to your body, run the risk of paralysis or dying early, get your brain routinely concussed and munch on enough painkillers to tranquilize a herd of elephants. But you do all this for the dollars, not the joy.
Three hours on Sunday may seem to those of us on the outside to be a glorious diversion, a chance to get behind something that feels important and dramatic. What we don't see, though, are the other 165 hours in the week. We don't see the players who are knicked and dinged from Day One of Training Camp until the last second ticks off the clock of the season's last game. We don't see the injuries that never heal, the pain and the physical dysfunction that often lingers long after a career ends.
We don't see this, so it is a lot easier for us to criticize holdout Adewale Ogunleye for being selfish and greedy than it is to feel how he does on Monday mornings. The surprise isn't that some of our football players drink and drug. The surprise is that more of them don't.
(Marijuana use is a lot more prevalent in football than anyone knows. The NFL's testing policy is a laughable scam meant to give the illusion of policing to a Puritanical public that wishes to believe what it's seeing on Sundays is pure. Nate Newton spent 14 years in the league without us hearing a word about possible marijuana use. You think his first dalliance with it was in retirement, when police found 213 pounds of it in his van?)
These are games in name only. You probably get tired of hearing rich athletes say, ''It's a business,'' but it is an Arctic and absolute truth. The Oakland Raiders waived loyal employee Rod Woodson and the Denver Broncos waived loyal employee John Mobley after they both failed physicals. Hmmm. Wonder how that happened? Could they have hurt themselves, oh, I don't know, on the job? Football's savageness obviously isn't limited to the field.
We see athletes who complete in what is arguably the ultimate team sport. We see the grace, the athleticism, the violence, and the excitement. What we choose to ignore is a system that casts a player aside in a heartbeat when he loses a step or his nerve. We castigate players like Ricky Williams who walk away when he still has much to offer us and his team (and we couch our disapproval in terms of "betrayal", as if he somehow owes us something).
Now Wayne Huizenga wants his money back? This is the same man who would have kicked Williams to the curb without so much as a pang of guilt if his performance dropped off. The sad thing here is that Huizenga feels perfectly justified in his righteous indignation. After all, it must suck when an exploiter has the tables turned on him.
How would you like to hurt yourself at work, giving your body to your employer's cause, and then have the final years of your lopsided and nonguaranteed contract discarded? How would you like to be ex-Miami receiver O.J. McDuffie, suing from early retirement because your career was cut short, as was your gait, by pain and botched surgeries and the noble need to care about a team more than it cared about you?
Ah, but we don't like to bring business standards into the sacred cathedral we've made out of sports. We trump logic with utopian talk of ''loyalty'' and ''sacrifice'' and ''good of the team,'' as if somebody on your sales staff would trot out any of that bunk if he felt underpaid and underappreciated.
Loyalty? Sacrifice? Good of the team? That crap may still hold some cachet in the college game, but the NFL is as cutthroat as cutthroat gets. Players are commodities, milked and marketed and packaged until their performance declines, in which case they are tossed aside like yesterday's newspaper. What players are often left with is a broken body and, all too often, a broken spirit.
Don't believe me? Consider the case of Randall Godfrey:
He was a Titans linebacker. He took a $2.5 million pay cut for the good of the team and its salary cap. And a few months later, when most of the jobs had been taken all over the league, Tennessee waived its honorable and loyal employee.
There's a good reason men such as Godfrey don't love this relationship the way the rest of the cheering people in the wedding party do.
He knows what a witch he has married.
Take one for the team? Sacrifice for the greater good? Noble concepts, to be sure, but when you think about the brutal realities of a career in the NFL (think of Thomas Hobbes' description of the lives of cats- "nasty, brutish, and short"), can we blame players for looking out for themselves first, last, and always? How many of us wouldn't do the same thing?