x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Players deserve a well-earned break

NFL coaches fail to realise that players do not have to attend their off-season workouts and run them as if the play-offs are about to begin.

Apparently no NFL coach owns a dictionary. If one did and they consulted, for example, page 1,436 of "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language'' they would find the word "voluntary".' The definition reads as follows: "voluntary, adjective. 1. Arising from one's own free will; acting on one's own initiative?6. Acting or performed without external persuasion or compulsion. b. without legal obligation?''

In other words, if NFL teams run what they call "organised team activities'' (OTA) in the off-season, which is another name for "practice'' the players don't have to attend. This is a concept lost on coaches, who run them as if the play-offs are about to begin. From July to February NFL players pound each other into dust. Massive men slam into each other at hellish speeds, bend each other into pretzels and generally commit mayhem in an effort to reach and win the Super Bowl.

Only two teams make it and only one wins but all 32 suffer. Each of the 1,600 or so players are, by the end of the year, injured. As DeMaurice Smith, the head of the players' union, says: "There is a 100 per cent casualty rate in the NFL.'' That being the case, it is not surprising that when the off-season comes the players would prefer to be, well, off. NFL coaches prefer otherwise, which is why they came up with OTAs, which are supposed to be voluntary workouts where players so inclined can work with their teammates to improve their game.

In addition, each team have one mandatory mini-camp, which lasts less than a week, a month or so before the start of summer training camps. Yet week after week coaches and the media grumble about this or that guy being "absent''. How can you be "absent'' if you don't have to be there? That's what the New England Patriots' 360-pound Vince Wilfork would like to know. He has attended none of the Patriots' OTAs or off-season workouts. Contractually he doesn't have to. This has been perceived by some as a "holdout'' because he is in the final year of his contract and is now vastly underpaid for the nasty work he does.

A nose tackle plays in the midst of the defensive line and is paid to take a beating from offensive linemen so others can make tackles. It is thankless work which you need a long respite from when the season is over. Wilfork is taking a legal break yet it is speculated his absence is a job action. How can it be a strike when he doesn't have to be at work? This kind of thinking is repeated all across the country, where players absent from the demanding eye of their coaches are portrayed as less than team players because they want a full vacation. Considering what they do, who wouldn't? One reporter wrote of Wilfork's "continued absence'' last week. Absence from what? From not being off when he's off?

Wilfork at least found a way to have fun with this, which is more than most coaches do. The day the Patriots had the first of several weeks of OTAs was a rainy spring morning in New England. While 76 of his teammates slogged through the mud, Wilfork and about half a dozen other veterans stayed away. As speculation ran rampant about his whereabouts he twittered from his web page that: "at least I was able to get all my plants in the garden this weekend.''

While one of the best nose tackles in football was planting corn, carrots and some greens, at least three NFL players were lost for the season during OTAs, including one of his teammates - rookie linebacker Tyrone McKenzie. Maybe Wilfork is on to something - this time of year plant peas not players. rborges@thenational.ae