On March 10, 2019, Antonio Brown beat the system. The disgruntled All-Pro wide receiver demanded a trade from the Pittsburgh Steelers and was actually granted his request. A shocking outcome because 1) It saddles the Steelers with over $21 million in dead salary money they’ll have to eat this season, and 2) The NFL thrives on suppressing the agency of its players at every possible turn.
Meanwhile, situations identical to AB’s take place on the regular in the NBA. Just ask Kristaps Porzingis, Kyrie Irving, and Paul George—stars under contract with a team who expressed a desire to leave. Talk to Anthony Davis in a few months. Basketball players sit comfortably in the driver’s seat, steering the car of their career in any direction they choose while football players face a different reality.
In the archaic NFL, owners and GMs man the wheel with the players—no matter the caliber—strapped tightly into the backseat. Thanks to non-fully guaranteed contracts, they possess much less power than their NBA brothers, which made Brown’s ability to maneuver his way out unique and ultimately triumphant. It also represented a big “fuck you” to the league, especially when you consider he wound up in Oakland, a desired destination. Not even NBAers enjoy that luxury. Look how far the Spurs shipped Kawhi Leonard away from his native Southern California!
Does this mean the power dynamics in the NFL are shifting from the suits to the athletes?