YOUR WORD IS YOUR BOND — COMMITMENT IN SEMI-PRO

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August 29, 2013 | semiprotalk.con

By Craig Robbins

Los Angeles, CA — The idea of paying to play, getting up on Saturdays and having total disregard for one’s body, some even playing without any medical insurance, wholeheartedly exemplifies one whom has astonishing love for the game of football — that’s how I initially perceived semi-professional football. Even before I arrived on the scene in ’07, my peers told me some of the horror stories about field conditions their respective teams played on, way back when, the quality of uniforms, etc., but that didn’t really matter to them — being a man in your mid to late 20s and holding on to that feeling of being a kid all over again is what it’s essentially all about. Now, there are other motives for playing semi-professional football (hopes of playing in the NFL, Arena football, CFL, etc.), but for the most part, it is assumed that all are playing under the same creed — love of the game…or so we think.

In 2013, Southern California semi- pro football has taken a bit of a turn in a different direction in regards to its players: today, players feel a degree of entitlement. “I’m paying to play, so I can choose to do what I want, when I want with any team.” Commitment? I believe we can throw that term out the window. This season alone, we’ve witnessed an abundance of “free agent” post from players on multiple message board forums. Player movement has been at an all-time high as of late, resulting in one team going from champion, a mere top team in SoCal, to potential chump and near bottom feeder in a, now, inferior league (NC Bears, CFA). Players are, for whatever reason, unhappy with playing time, the team they may be on, winning vs. losing, broken promises by a respective owner, instability within a particular league, exposure, or lack there of, in potentially moving on to the next level and are suddenly on a constant move in the semi-pro spectrum.

Now, I’m very aware and understand the phrase “bang for your buck.” As a player, their hard-earned money is being spent and are trusting in their respective owner to give them the best platform to either compete and get to the next level, feel a sense of a professional-like football atmosphere, and potentially play against some of the best teams this region has to offer.

At the same time, players have to hold themselves more accountable. Although money is being spent to play, commitment, integrity, loyalty are words that relate to one another, whether a person agrees or not, and should be taken seriously, especially if one is going to call himself a teammate, a member of an organization, etc. football player A, to some degree, had knowledge that the team he would be joining has a very loaded roster, and playing time at his position could be scarce. Player B joins a team in an unstable league, knowing the norm of semi-pro (with teams folding with regularity), and suddenly feels he isn’t getting what he subsequently deserves. The pros and cons of both scenarios were loudly on the surface prior to joining, yet, many act as if they were suddenly blind-sided or wronged with the way things unfolded, adamantly wanting out.

What happened to perseverance, giving your blood, sweat and tears for something? Competing. Today’s semi-pro player has this microwave-like mentality, where things must happen in their favor at an instant. I can recall my first year in semi-pro with the Foothill Firehawks (’07). Being recently removed from college and having spent a season playing indoor football, I felt I was the man on the field, and there was no way I would play second fiddle to a career minor league football player. Boy, was I wrong. The season went on, I played sparingly, a few times not playing at all in some games. I finally got my shot during the early-mid point of the season vs the California Dolphins. On my second carry of the game, I took a draw play for fifty yards and hit pay-dirt — the rest was history from that point on. It wasn’t that guys were better than I was; it was simply the fact that I joined an established team with a winning background, players on the team had a similar past, and frankly, we were loaded (eventually winning the MLFN national championship). I also believe the football gods were teaching me a lesson of what it meant to compete and weather the storm.

The whole idea of being a free agent in semi-pro…a complete joke. Players have made a mockery of this particular element, and it’s a bit of a sham. The “Mike Free movement,” a phrase in reference to longtime semi- pro player Michael Farinas for his constant move from team to team, has been uttered with regularity as of late in this particular realm. There was one point where Farinas played on 3 teams in one season (Firehawks, Cobras and Thunder). For whatever reasons, the moves, all be it unfortunate, happened. Players joke about the reference but in all actuality, it is quite sad.

So, why is this problem so prevalent? As I’m writing this article, I’m sure there’s someone punching away at their phone, putting up, yet, another new-aged “free agent” post on the message board. My theory is, a lot of players never was either seriously recruited out of high school, zero individual accolades or accomplishments, possibly played ball at a local community college and nothing to really show for it after the fact. All of a sudden, one possibly received minimal success in semi-pro, a coach or owner might have overly praised a performance on the field, now suddenly said player is under the impression that he’s God’s gift to football and is entitled to everything.

Let’s not forget the owners that fuel this issue by allowing serial team-hoppers to join their respective team, all to subsequently experience their non-commitment. But, we’ve been down the path of winning at all cost (see Leon Williams’ article). Player rejection to one’s team, being proactive in not making a mockery of the semi-pro brand would be a start in hindering this madness.

If one leaves a team because he feels he’s getting shafted out of playing time, or a particular league isn’t meeting his needs, which causes him to bolt for greener grass, what happens if the new destination wasn’t what one hoped? Is packing up an bouncing from team-to-team, the notorious “Mike Free movement,” until satisfied worth it all? To me, that doesn’t convey love for the game; it’s interpreted as love for whatever situation that curtails to me, a real individualistic approach.

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