Sunday, April 05, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

I know I've been writing a lot about sports lately. But there's a lot going on out there nowadays. You have the return of baseball for another season. The college basketball season is winding down. And coaches are getting fired left and right as is typically the case after every season. This creates many openings and people leave positions they have to take these jobs. This causes the usual sturm und drang amongst jilted fans and the media about whither the "sanctity of contracts." So let us review, yet again, the basic law of contracts in light of a couple of recent events. And let's put a lid on the sanctimony.
The latest big news out of the NFL is that Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler just got traded to the Chicago Bears. Cutler is a Pro Bowl caliber QB who played for a mediocre team. After last season, the Broncos brass hit the panic button and fired long time coach Mike Shanahan and replaced him with Josh McDaniels, the former offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. Shanahan was under contract with the Broncos when he was canned. McDaniels was under contract with the Patriots when he took the Denver job.
Cutler has a rifle arm and a thin skin. Word is that he was pissed when Shanahan got fired. But what really set him off was when the new regime started shopping Cutler around right off the bat. Then they basically lied and told Cutler that they had done no such thing. Cutler saw red and demanded to be traded. Which led McDaniels to say, presumably with a straight face, " Jay Cutler is under contract."
But you don't need a pissed off quarterback at the controls. And if you had made as big a mess of things as the new regime had made of this situation you need to get this story turned off. So they traded Cutler, contract and all, to the Bears where Cutler will get to run for his life until he demands to be traded to someplace else.
Are you getting the picture here?
What people don't understand is that implicit in every contract is the right to breach. The 13th Amendment is the law of the land. You don't have to work for anybody you don't want to. But if you signed an employment contract there are certain consequences for if you quit. Conversely there are certain consequences for your employer if you are terminated for reasons other than misconduct connected with your employment.
The legal effect of the breach is not that somebody gets burned at the stake or has to wear the Scarlet Letter in the town square. The legal effect is, typically, already agreed to by the parties in a liquidated damages clause which prescribes the damages for breaching the contract at the day of signing when hearts are still young and gay.
In other words, it's just business. Which doesn't always sit well with sports fans, primarily college sports fans, who tend to project their own romantic notions of business ethics and morality onto the movers and shakers who profit from their, well, fanaticism.
And to these people I say, " Get real."
Take our very own Wally Hall. If you must. One of his sports columns last week was entitled "Anderson man of word, committed to Tigers." He was referring to Missouri's Mike Anderson who turned down the men's basketball job at Georgia to remain with the Tigers. While Wally candidly admitted that the Mizzou job is a better gig than Georgia, Wally had to go further and schmaltz it up a bit.
" He gave his word."
Not exactly. According to Wally, Missouri's AD asked Anderson what it would take to keep him there. This was " probably right after they won the Big 12 Conference Championship." Wally has no more idea of when this occured than you do. And for all we know he gets his information the same way you and I do: Either from the media or he just makes it up.
In any event, Anderson gave Missouri his wish list and they agreed to it. And after he removed the gun from their head "he gave his word."
Wally says Mile Anderson is an honorable man. And from what I know of him, and all I know is what Wally knows, this is the absolute truth. It is also but minimally relevant to the discussion.
Because if a job pops up in the future that Anderson wants, he will direct his agent to throw his hat in the ring for him. Or, if he has a couple of bad seasons, Missouri will can him. Contract or no contract.
Bidness is bidness. And, conventional morality aside, implicit in every contract is the right to breach.

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