Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Need You Now: Why the union needs Becks

This probably doesn't come as much of a shock to you, but I was not the tallest kid growing up. In fact, I was probably the shortest among my friends. Heck, I even collected a few nicknames to prove it: Sweet Pea, Baby-B, Skee-lo.* Luckily, I was born with some athletic ability, so when it came down to picking kickball teams, I was never last, and through my on-field performances, I even gained a bit of schoolyard cred.

(*Was "I Wish" not like the short kid anthem back in the day? I remember the first time I heard it on the radio. It was during summer vacation back in '95. Anyway, I'm shooting hoops with my younger brother in the driveway. I'm about to age myself here, but I've got the boombox blasting KIX 106, the only hip-hop station in RI. And all of a sudden, the song comes on. It had a catchy beat. Good song. Then, mid-jump shot, the lyrics made sense. "I know EXACTLY what this dude is talking about!" All those hot chicks at school turning you down because you were short? I felt that!)

Despite my ability to boot a kickball clear across the street, the first tenant of the Bully Creed always remained: short kid always gets picked on. I like to think I held my own for the most part. But when that kid who's a good foot taller than you starts pushing you into the locker or elbows you in the hallway, no amount of athletic ability is going to help you. You're short. He's tall. And there's definitely not enough time to come back and blindside him with a folding chair.

Luckily, I was blessed to have an entourage of friends back then. In fact, I had a buddy named Anthony who not only had my back, but had some standing in school as the starting goalkeeper (my high school didn't have a football team). He was tall. He was tough. No one was more revered, nor feared (I suppose) more than him.

So when said vertically-gifted kid continued his ego-padding at my expense, Anthony approached him with an ultimatum: leave the kid alone and I'll leave you alone. The counterpositive applied as well. He never bothered me again.

In the same vein, the players union is getting pushed and elbowed by the owners. They're stuffing them into lockers, TPing their houses, and extorting their lunch money. And if you think it's the other way around, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

Clearly, the owners are in the position of power. It's their single-entity league. Owners make the millions. Players earn minimum wage. The players certainly have no Anthony to defend them, right?


You know where Anthony is? You know who can single-handedly shift an immense amount of power back to the union?

He's in Milan. And his name David Beckham.

Yes, the league's most visible and highest-earning player is in a remarkable position to aid his colleagues. With a series of words or trite press release, Beckham can make a stand for the union. He can call out the league, and people will listen. He can outline the numerous disadvantages of playing in MLS, and the global media will regurgitate every syllable. He can single-handedly render the owners as greedy, money-hording, expansion-loving hedonists, and the vast majority of the public will buy that as gospel.

But he hasn't, and he likely won't. For all the attention he garners through tabloids and underwear ads, there's one thing we know: he hates controversy. He shies away from it like Lady Gaga shuns clothes (and good taste). He's far too polished at this point in his career to risk a few chips on the grill.*

I know that conflicts exist because of the AEG/19 Entertainment marriage. He won’t dare bite the hand that feeds him. I understand that. But, as an MLS player, his voice would be the loudest in this dispute. And yet, he’s refused to utter more than a word or sentence (publicly, at least) during the negotiations.

And that's quite sad. Even though it's no secret that Becks' primary ambitions lie internationally rather than Stateside, the effort required is minimal. The union doesn't need him to join the picket line. They don't even need him to return to the States. All they need is for him to voice their concerns.

The union wants guaranteed contracts. The union wants free agency. The union wants a decent 401K.

Now, try it like this:

David Beckham wants guaranteed contracts. David Beckham wants free agency. David Beckham wants a decent 401K.*

(* OK, that's pretty ridiculous.)

See how much powerful those statements become when a famous face says it?

But, as usual, Beckham will likely remain silent on the subject. He will continue to ply his trade in Milan, far enough away from the cries and plight of his fellow players.

All the while, the union continues to get abused. And they're left wondering, who's going to stick up for us?

I don't normally quote comic book characters, but I believe Peter Parker's Uncle Ben put it best: "With great power comes great responsibility."*

(*Technically, the quote is attributed to former Spider Man writer, Stan Lee, who also came up with one of my other favorite quotes:"Any dream worth having is a dream worth fighting for.")

Beckham certainly has the former, but refuses to inherit the latter.

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