Off the field issues hinder on field success

Most people will never know what it’s like to play a professional. Many dream of it, but very few are able to achieve it—and even when it is achieved, the athlete’s work isn’t over. Professional sports are a business and in order to compete, you need to be on top. For some athletes, this is just not possible. Even the slightest mistake—on the field or off—can determine one’s career.

Many people who watch the National Football League know who Wes Welker is. The five-time Pro Bowler had a very successful career at wide receiver with the New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Denver Broncos. What many people don’t know is that Welker signed as a free agent with the San Diego Chargers and was subsequently cut from the team for being too short.

“Of all the players I've been involved in releasing, the decision to release [Welker] was the biggest mistake ever made,” former Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. It’s hard to know for sure, but it’s likely that this fueled Welker to work hard to be “the best in the business.” Perhaps getting cut from a team was what he needed to put in the work and be at the top of his game.

Another thing to consider when talking about professional sports and its inclination toward being a business is politics and personal issues. The best example of this is the formation of the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team—better known as “The Dream Team.” Many people thought that Detroit Pistons point guard Isiah Thomas was a lock in for a spot. Michael Jordan and Thomas had some issues, however, and Jordan spoke out to head coach Chuck Daly about not including him on the team. In the end, Thomas was cut. It is still one of the most controversial and widely debated decisions in sports to this day—and with good reason. Personal politics have no place in professional sports. They are there, however, and they are very prevalent.

The last issues that find their way into the realm of professional sports are off the field. Many players’ actions off the field get them into trouble on the field. The biggest instance of this in recent memory is former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. After being recorded getting into a heated argument with his fiancé—now wife—Rice struck her and knocked her unconscious. The Ravens decided to cut Rice from the team.

This is a decision that was widely debated: should off the field issues allow a team to cut a player? Should we even be paying attention to these issues? Coming back to the business analogy of professional sports, what Rice did was a bad move for the Ravens’ reputation. They did not want a stain on their organization, so they cut him. This seems logical enough, but why are players like the Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy—who both have committed similar offenses—not cut from their respective teams?

Getting cut from a professional sports team can be from lack of talent, but it can also come from a variety of other reasons. The question of the validity of these reasons is widely discussed in the sports world—and most likely will be for years to come.