Roquan Smith’s decision to hold firm in his contract dispute with the Chicago Bears might not be popular, but it is the right thing to do. And Bears fans need to let it sink in.
Remember when most of us thought that the contract beef between the Chicago Bears and Roquan Smith would be resolved easily before the Bears suited up for their first preseason game August second against the Baltimore Ravens?
Now, with every day that passes, the prospect of Smith playing in the preseason at all grows slimmer. And every day brings forth new information that changes the face of the argument, at least for those of us who are keeping an open mind.
If you need some catching up on the details, here’s the short version:
Smith, the eighth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, has yet to sign his rookie contract with the Chicago Bears. Why? Because his agents and Ryan Pace are quarreling over a clause in Smith’s contract that could shave guaranteed money off the end of Smith’s deal if he gets suspended for violating the NFL’s new helmet rule. The rule in a nutshell: “it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”
Given that Smith’s job is literally to be 100+-tackle-a-year machine and throw his body into ball carriers with abandon, the chances of this rule coming up in discussion are, just by nature, fairly high.
For that reason, Smith’s camp wants assurances that the Bears won’t renege on paying him if he were suspended for that specific issue.
Meanwhile, Pace and Co. don’t want to budge on that, instead preferring an informal assurance that they’ll try to be reasonable (again, leaving that technical loophole open). And if Smith were suspended even once, it could even make it easier for the Bears to cut him in his fourth year and avoid paying out his full deal.
And, as it turns out, multiple teams have already granted their players the language Smith wants in his deal, including at least one who plays the same position, which makes the Bears’ current predicament that much more bizarre.
So, why exactly are the Bears being so obstinate with Smith again? They have a clear blueprint for how to deal with this situation based on a previously signed contract with a player at the same position. Just striking the clause altogether is simply the easiest thing to do, and it gives everyone what they want: Roquan Smith on a football field.
Instead, what we have is a totally unnecessary staring contest between the Chicago Bears and the player they drafted to lead their defense for, hopefully, the next decade.
To make matters worse, they’ve also made Smith, who’s not really at fault here, look bad in the eyes of an eager fan base.
Naturally, this situation has raised the specter of those most irritating of outsider thoughts about athletes: that they’re overpaid, disloyal, and should just take what they’re given because they make millions of dollars while the average person slaves away for $50,000 a year.
I mean, there are people in the Chicago Bears fandom right now that claim they want Smith traded for negotiating for what he believes is a fair contract at his workplace (and yes, that is all he is doing, nothing more). After all, a true fan roots for the team itself, no matter who plays for them, right?
If you say so. But that’s not really the point here, is it?
After all, what makes fans side more often with the billion-dollar corporation (make no mistake, that’s what the Chicago Bears are) than the employees of said company that all too often get used up and cast aside while the machine continues on?
The reason exists in what it means to be a fan in the first place, I think.
See, we fans might play for fun in rec leagues or might’ve scored a touchdown or two in high school, but most of us will never set foot between the lines of a professional field or court of any kind for any reason.
The average fan will never have the skills to play the game or, as much as we like to pretend, the knowledge to coach at a high level. And as much as we emotionally invest ourselves, we’ll typically never have as much a stake in it as the actual participants (I do, in fact, know people who actually believe they care more about the outcome of a game than the players themselves).
So, we want to take ownership of the entertainment in whatever way we can.
We play video games and fantasy sports, taking control of our favorite players and profiting off of them in the way of bragging rights and, maybe, a few extra bucks in your fantasy leagues. We buy team merchandise and wear it proudly. We refer to our team as “we”, as if we’re one of them. We “hate” players of opposing teams.
And sometimes, when someone on our team does something we don’t like—like a receiver on Madden that drops a pass you threw to him—we admonish him with “threats” (“we pay your salaries!”) to demand compliance. By the way, I’m removing myself from that camp.
As such, we forget that if the players are “overpaid”, as people claim (which they’re not), it’s precisely because fans have decided that they should be. Then again, how can players be overpaid when they’re simply being paid what their value is to a multi-billion-dollar industry?
And we also seem to forget that if we were in Smith’s position, with our employer essentially telling us they would want to keep a provision in our contract to potentially shortchange us money and offload us more easily down the line due to violation of a potentially subjective, experimental rule, we’d be infuriated.
It’s not about the millions of dollars of difference between our situations. It’s about not accepting less than your worth. But again, fans have no problem demanding that athletes do that. As such, even though Pace and the Bears should logically be the ones who stand down in this argument, some Bears fans believe Smith should just capitulate on principle because what’s the difference?
Easy to say when it’s not your money.
One way or another, Roquan Smith will play for the Chicago Bears this season (like…99.999% positive, anyway). And when he does, most fans aren’t going to concern themselves with this again. But in the meantime, Smith is doing the right, if somewhat unpopular, thing by holding his ground.
And regardless of what our fan affiliations are, sometimes you have to call a spade a spade. In this case, that means recognizing the guts it takes for Smith to stick up for himself, not tearing him down.
Follow Khari Thompson on Twitter–Feature Photo Credit: AP Photos