Sunday, July 31, 2011

Peyton Manning: Hero. (Unless you wanted the Colts to win a Super Bowl this year.)(Or unless you have a soul.)

NOTE: While I'm going to go through the usual motions of ripping on a player who just signed an exorbitant and greedy contract, if you put up with it, you'll get to some really interesting stuff down below about what teams and fans can do to fix this. So maybe read something for a change instead of just skimming through for pictures of scantily-clad cheerleaders. (There's one of those, too, down below, because I know you expect it.)

Peyton Manning just got 90 million cupcakes. That's probably why he looks so smug.

"Cupcakes", for those of you who haven't read everything I've ever written, is the metaphor I use when I talk about free agency and superhigh athlete salaries; I have to say cupcakes because if I say money, then people accuse me of being a communist (which I maybe almost am) and say I'm dumb and how can I limit how much money people can make, and generally make fools of themselves by thinking that dollars are different than cupcakes.

And then I have to point out that they're being stupid, and things devolve from there.

So I just say cupcakes and we're all happy -- all of us, that is, except those people who (like me) think it's ridiculous that anyone makes $18 million per year, especially people who no longer need that money, and except those people (like Colts' fans) who were really hoping their team would win the Super Bowl and now won't get to see that.

Peyton Manning signed a contract which is supposed to pay him $90 million over 5 years, or $18 million a year, or the equivalent of what Tom Brady got; this is actually being spun as a good thing he did, (although, to be fair, that blogger did point out that Manning selfishly kept the "don't pay me" talk to himself through the first four days of the shortened free agency period.)

Let's get a couple of things straight:

1. Yes, I'm going to point out that what Peyton Manning makes is in some way horrible. You'll just have to put up with that, because if you're going to laugh at Peyton Manning commercials, I want you to feel a little uncomfortable that you're helping support a man who's hoarding resources and helping keep poverty alive in America -- using your money.

2. Peyton Manning isn't a hero even to Colts fans because he didn't need the money and he's hurting the team.

All of which is going somewhere, so I'll make it quick.

1. What Manning will make this year is horrible in some way, and that way is this:

Manning's not up on ESPN's salary calculator yet, but Tom Brady is, and Manning heroically (where's that sarcastic-faced emoticon?) let his pay be only equal to Brady's, so I just found out that if I work 187 years, I'll make what Manning will make this year.

Back on June 16, a homeless man named Stephen McGuire was beaten to death by teenagers. That happened in Indianapolis, which isn't that big a city, so let's assume that at some point, as Peyton Manning drove one of his cars - he has three, two Escalades and one Cadillac SLR -- he drove by Stephen McGuire.

If Peyton Manning had used just, say, $100,000 per year, he could have kept Stephen McGuire off the streets for the rest of Stephen McGuire's life -- at a maximum cost of $3,900,000, or less than 1/4 of what Manning will make this year.

And Stephen McGuire's life would have lasted a lot longer than it did.

I picked out that $100,000 figure because, although I can't find the link to it right now, a while back, a city did an experiment in which they stopped arresting chronically homeless people and started housing them -- paying social workers to watch over people and help keep these people off the street and maybe get some of them better. The $100,000 was, as I recall, the figure it was estimated that cost per year per person -- but it was $100,000 that then wasn't spent arresting and jailing the men, and people were safer and felt better about their city, while courts were slightly less congested.

So Manning could have, simply by using 1/4 of the money he'll make this year, saved a man's life.

Keep that in mind when you laugh at those commercials this year. And maybe, when Peyton drives to work this year, he'll watch the people on the street and wonder whose life he's not saving.

2. Peyton is hurting the team: Colts fans, when are you going to stop liking Peyton? This year, maybe? Sure, he's a great football player (or is he? One big game win in 19 years suggests that Manning isn't championship-caliber material and benefited in the Super Bowl he did win by playing against Sexy Rexy's Bears) but he's hurting the team.

Don't take it from me. Take it from Jim Irsay. He's said in the past that he wants to restructure Manning's salary to allow the Colts (who haven't won a big game since they gave Manning a larger contract after the Super Bowl victory over the Bears) to sign free agents -- and who then this year had to sit out the shortened free agent period while negotiating with Manning.


Or Goat?

Free agents in football aren't that big a deal -- they won't turn a losing team into a winning team (right, Daniel Snyder?) but they can turn a good team into a great team: Adding Randy Moss, when he was still good, took the Patriots* to 18-1*. Adding Brett Favre took the Vikings from wild card to overtime in the NFC Championship. Adding Drew Brees to the Saints got them a Super Bowl victory. Doug Flutie, back in the olden days, got the Bills to the playoffs almost singlehandedly.

So you see where I'm going with this: the Colts have a good team... and that's all they'll have, while Manning sucks up salary cap room. (Indy, before Manning's contract, had only about $4.5 million in cap space.)

Manning recognizes that, because he told the Colts he'd take less ($18 million being, somehow, LESS in this country, where people will voluntarily give a man millions to play football but won't allow their taxes to be increased to pay for health care) to allow free agents to be signed -- so even he knows what he's doing, but he doesn't care, because he just took up $18 million in cap space even though he doesn't need the money.

Manning made $27,000,000 last year alone -- about half in endorsements. I don't know what he made in previous years, and I don't care. Give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. Give a man $27,000,000 and he'll be able to live in style for 108 years without ever worrying about money.

I get that figure by taking dividing Manning's take last year by $250,000. If you make $250,000 (or more) you are in the upper 1/2 of income no matter where you live in the United States. San Francisco. Manhattan. Wherever all those ugly women on reality TV shows about ugly rich women live. Doesn't matter: the median income in every single community in the U.S. is $250,000 or lower.

So Manning's pay last year alone would have let him live in style anywhere in the U.S. for 108 years, even if nobody ever paid him any money ever again.

He doesn't need the money.

But he took it because unlike what the headlines are saying, it's not competition that drives Manning, it's greed; that's the only excuse for continuing to take cupcakes after you have enough to keep you going for 108 years.

I get why I'm mad at Manning; he's greedy and helps contribute to a society where homeless people die in the streets while he drives his Escalade past them.

But why aren't his teammates mad at him?

Here's the larger point of where I'm going with this:

3. Why does the players' union allow this to happen? Aren't they supposed to be looking out for all the players? Not just Brady and Manning and The Anointed One?

Letting one member of a union suck up 20% of the salary space at the shop doesn't seem to me to be in the best interests of other union members, and I don't know why the great majority of players, who don't make $18 million a year, don't get together and demand a stop to it. They're complaining about not making more than $400,000, and putting rookie salary caps on players (not much of a cap, but that's for another day), while not bothering to put a cap on what any individual (non-rookie) player can earn.

Why not put a veteran individual cap on? I could see a couple ways this could work, and help out teams and players, and fans (because they're a part of this, too, as crazy as that might seem to owners and players who obviously never think of the fans.)

First, count endorsement money against the cap. Why exempt money players make from endorsements from the salary cap? It seems to me that's a huge loophole: Want to pay Peyton more money? Give him $18 million a year in "cap" money and then arrange for endorsements from businesses. That kind of thing happens all the time in college football -- boosters arrange to "hire" top players and pay them to do nothing more than play football.

I don't know if it's ever happened in the NFL; so far as I know nobody's ever investigated whether Manning (or anyone) gets endorsements as part of an arrangement between a team and the company. I'm not an investigative journalist, so I won't be, either. But whether or not it's set up that way, endorsement money is money Manning makes for being a Colt, and if you count it against the cap, you'll even out pay structures. (You'd have to exempt endorsement money from the cap-floor, but that's easily enough done.)

Second, impose a single-season pay cap on all players: a rule that says, for example, no player can be paid, in that season, more than 10% of the total cap space for that season would be simple enough to enforce, and would mean that Manning, or Favre, or whoever, would have to be paid a lesser amount, would be beneficial to all players, too. (This year, that would limit players to a maximum income of about $12 million. I'm sure they'll get by.)

Third, impose a lifetime earnings cap on salary from teams -- to avoid simply promising (as the USFL did with Steve Young) to pay the money over 40 years or something; allowing too-high pay keeps ticket prices up and other players' salaries down, regardless of how long you string it out. So limiting NFL teams to paying a player, say, $50 million over their lifetime, would be enforceable and more than reasonable. (I note that many people are going to argue that this is communism or somesuch, and those people should stop to think: do you really want to argue that it's unfair to limit someone to earning "only" fifty million dollars in their lifetime.)(Those people should also keep in mind I'm just saying the team could only pay him that much. I wouldn't include in the lifetime cap endorsement money or other income sources.)

The bottom line is that fans get hurt by megadeals like Mannings -- and society gets hurt.

Fans get hurt because the team won't be as good; they can't afford as many good people to put around Manning, and football isn't a one-man sport, no matter how hard the NFL tries to make it that way. And fans get hurt because keeping superhigh salaries superhigh means that jerseys and tickets and the like have to cost more, and that TV deals have to pay more, so more and more games will be moving to pay cable TV. Already, Monday Night Football is a pay experience; those games were free most of your lifetime, but now you have to pay to see them, and Thursday games, too. I'm guessing we are five years from cable-only playoff games, and don't say I didn't warn you.

Society get hurt worse, because as long as we support the "right" of people like Peyton Manning to get $90 million cupcakes and don't demand some sanity, and responsibility, from people who think that's okay, well, then, that's how long we're going to live in a country where 61-year-old men get beaten to death in the street while millionaires drive by them in Escalades.

Here's a link to Stephen McGuire's obituary, which begins:

With an armful of tattered bags, 61 year old Stephen McGuire settled in for the night in his temporary home. The exhaust vent behind the Downtown Sheraton provided enough warmth, and the loading dock enough privacy, that McGuire was able to sleep hassle-free most nights.

And includes

Police say a video shows a group of five youths- four males and one female - appearing to take part in a fatal attack on McGuire, who was repeatsdly kicked in the head.

In images from four cameras in the alley, one of the males is seen wearing a SpongeBob Square jacket. Another is captured on camera laughing and pointing at McGuire's body, shadow boxing like a fighter who has just scored a knockout.

He was a Marine corps vet who'd been homeless for five years, but who loved being downtown in Indianapolis. The article doesn't say, but I'll bet he was a fan of Peyton Manning's.

Too bad Peyton wasn't a fan of his.

Oh, before I forget, here's your cheerleader:


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