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Brizzolara: Le’Veon Bell should be praised, not ridiculed for holding out

| Thursday, September 27, 2018

During the NFL Preseason, Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Le’Veon Bell announced that he would not report to training camp, causing a ‘Twitterstorm’ and much public criticism —including from his own teammates. Through three weeks of the NFL regular season, Bell’s holdout continues to be one of the hottest topics in the NFL.

Sports analysts and fans have ripped into Bell, claiming that he is putting his own interests selfishly ahead of the team and that his absence has been a significant reason why the Steelers have underperformed through the first three weeks of the NFL season. The Steelers are currently .500, including a game that ended in a tie to last year’s worst team in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns. These critics are exactly right, but they should be praising Bell, not criticizing him.

Le’Veon Bell is doing what many players do not have the guts or the ability to do. Le’Veon Bell is standing up to the NFL owners and the stranglehold they have on their players, and he is one of the few players talented enough to do so. NFL owners repeatedly take advantage of their players, and the NFL has arguably the worst Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) from the players perspective of the major sports leagues in the United States — NBA, MLB, and NHL being the other three major leagues. It has become common practice for NFL teams to draft players on player-unfriendly rookie deals, and then continuously franchise tag elite players for a few years to avoid paying a massive long-term deal. Le’Veon Bell is standing up to his owner, something that countless players are unwilling and not talented enough to have the leverage to do.

Economically, Le’Veon Bell is right to hold out. At age 26, most running backs only have a few years left in their prime. Le’Veon Bell, who is not only the Steelers’ leading rusher, but also their second leading pass-catcher, is right to worry that this will be the only opportunity he has to secure a long-term deal before his body is unable to perform at All-Pro levels. Last year, he had over 400 touches, an astronomically high number that has to take a large toll on his body. If he wants to break the cycle of running backs continually being franchise tagged and not getting the lucrative long-term deals they want, Le’Veon Bell’s only option is to holdout.

Much of the criticism levied against Le’Veon Bell has claimed that he is quitting on his team. This criticism is unjustified. Le’Veon Bell is not quitting on his team, rather he is doing what is best for himself and his future, something that NFL teams do on an everyday basis. Le’Veon Bell does have an obligation to give his teammates his all when he is on the team, but he is currently not signed under contract, and therefore has no obligation to a team that won’t pay him what he thinks he deserves to be paid. Ironically, Steelers players are only hurting their own long-term interests by calling out their former teammate who is trying to raise the market price.

Le’Veon Bell is sacrificing over $855 thousand per game, which is a large amount for any player, let alone an All-Pro running back who wants to secure his future. Ultimately, Le’Veon Bell’s primary obligation is to himself, and if he feels that risking brain damage and long-term injury for another year isn’t worth the $14.5 million franchise tag he is on, then his decision is justified. Owners and GMs are constantly praised when they make shrewd trades and are able to underpay players and offload unfavorable contracts. It’s time to start praising the players in the same way.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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