On the surface, it seems a rather irrational decision on Rory McIlroy’s part to play soccer with friends at this time of the year. People who are criticizing him for getting hurt playing soccer, however, are not taking into account that pros have lives, too. Why is this any different than, say, Jason Pierre-Paul’s Fourth of July mishap (severe burns on his hand and possible nerve damage)? Here’s why and it’s simple. The reason is that McIlroy plays an individual sport while the New York Giants entire team depends on Pierre-Paul. Team sport athletes are paid by the franchise whereas golfers, tennis players, track & field competitors, etc. only get paid if they perform well enough to deserve to get paid, i.e. they are the franchise.
Where there is a similarity is with the sponsors who pay athletes, independent of which sport is involved. To cover themselves, i.e. if the companies want to limit what their pitchmen (and women) can and cannot do, they ought to have clauses prohibiting such activities, just like teams do in their player contracts. In his case, Pierre-Paul didn’t violate any such clause in his contract but the Giants have pulled the $60 million max offer. Shed few tears as he will, in all likelihood, earn $14.8 million this coming season - although he has yet to sign. His foolish handling of fireworks could have, in fact, cost him a great deal more. McIlroy’s injury will prevent him from playing this weekend – and probably throughout the summer, if not longer. His team, though, suffers much worse than the Giants. With individual sports, unlike what our team coaches told us, one man is indispensable. Women fall into this category as well. Downhill skier Lindsey Vonn once sliced open her right thumb on a celebratory bottle of champagne after a victory in the World Championships.
Whether or not Vonn loves champagne that much is unknown (at least it is to me) but it’s common knowledge that McIlroy has a passion for futbol and has played it with friends in the past during the “golf season.” It’s doubtful any of his sponsors will attempt to include a “no-soccer” clause (c’mon, I gave the other term a mention, a big concession for somebody from the U.S.) for no other reason than he just might decline their offer. “Total rupture of left ATFL (ankle ligament) and associated joint capsule damage . . .” is the beginning of the text sent by McIlroy, informing his fans of his unfortunate situation. This news puts a real damper on the Jordan Speith-Rory McIlroy rivalry. Yet, no matter how much of a McIlroy fan you are, this definitely hurts him more than it does you. This includes all his sponsorships that would have been shown on television innumerable times when he plays.
Adversity doesn’t always mean losing, though. As creative as some agents are, the injured athlete might even wind up with endorsement opportunities because of the injury. McIlroy is probably weighing offers for the “boot” he’s wearing (assuming there’s more than one company making it). At least, then, fans would know he actually used the item he was pitching. I mean, does anybody really believe Shaq uses Icy Hot or Blake Griffin drives a Kia? Of course not, they’re just following their role models for (un)”truth in advertising” (as long as the price is right) – Ray Lewis for Old Spice, Karl Malone for Rogaine and Rafael Palmeiro for Viagra – an example of the extent guys will go for some extra income (possibly only surpassed by Jimmy Johnson for Extenze). If people only could understand that the reason celebrity pitchmen (and women) continue to line their pockets – with our money – is because we keep buying the product. Maybe the companies are the fools, e.g. their merchandise would sell equally as much if they didn’t pay celebrities. Then, again, if the public has it and continues to spend it, thus keeping the businesses profitable and putting their athlete endorsers further in the black, it’s a win-win for everybody.
Whenever bizarre incidents occur, like those with Rory and JPP, usually there’s an over-the-top reaction from professional franchises. As far back as when Bill Bradley played for the Knicks and the front office was alerted to an off-handed remark that their small forward made – that he heard sky diving was a thrilling experience – was a clause inserted into his contract prohibiting sky diving. And he’d never done it! Any player found to be in violation of such a clause could have his contract terminated. If you were bank rolling as much money with these guys as the owners are, you can bet you’d be just as protective of your investment. Ask any Patriots’ front office employee (or Pats’ fan for that matter) what his or her reaction was when video was aired of Tom Brady jumping off cliffs in Costa Rica, and a gasp would be the most likely response. Don’t be surprised if New England isn’t trying to amend his contract with a “no cliff diving” clause. Or any other potentially crippling injury to Brady – which the Pats feel by proxy.
While it can’t be written into a contract for athletes who participate in individual sports, common sense needs to be applied a bit more liberally. McIlroy and soccer is an example that straddles the border. On one hand, he truly enjoys playing and has done so, probably as long as he’s golfed. On the other hand, a bit more discretion – especially with the British Open almost upon us – might have been the more prudent move. After all, not only does Rory make his living at the game, he’s vying to be the best in the world at it. Tough decision.
Maybe in this case, Rory can learn from Thomas Edison, who said:
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”