Outside the Lines:
Robert Smith: My Piece of the Pie


Here's the transcript from Show 126 of weekly Outside The Lines - Robert Smith: My Piece of the Pie

SUN., AUG. 25, 2002
Host: Bob Ley
Reporter: Jeremy Schaap
Guests: Scott Boras, sports agent; George Will, commentator

BOB LEY, HOST- August 25, 2002. Robert Smith was the all-time Vikings rusher. Eighteen months ago, after leading the NFC in rushing, at the age of 28 and in good health, he retired from the NFL.

ROBERT SMITH, VIKINGS ALL-TIME LEADING RUSHER- I mean, it was just the job that I had for eight years. It wasn't who I was.

LEY- This morning, for the very first time, Robert Smith explains why he left.

And, five days from a baseball strike, he defends the salaries paid to pro athletes.

SMITH- People complaining about players' salaries. You know, it's just way out of line in our country.

LEY- Some of it, he says, involves race.

SMITH- They say, look, there's a dumb black athlete making $5 million a year.

LEY- Then today on Outside The Lines, I'll talk with the agent who negotiates for Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds, and a commentator on the board of a major league team, to consider, with the strike approaching, just how much do athletes deserve.

Very few people can do what Robert Smith did -- run the football at a Pro Bowl level as well as anyone, and then, in his prime, simply walk away.

Very few people think the way that Robert Smith thinks, that it's time now for the rest of his life, even as NFL coaches phone to ask him at the still effective age of 30, to return to the league for many millions of dollars.

Smith says he's been, in his own words, both a Messiah and a pariah. This morning for the first time he explains why he left football. And then he will discuss the great topic that more than any other divides fans from athletes, especially in the shadow of another baseball strike -- money -- and how fans, he says, just don't get it.

It is a Darwinian view of the dollar. Prepare to have your buttons pushed. Robert Smith now with Jeremy Schaap.

ANNOUNCER- Staying on the left sideline goes Robert Smith -- to the 40, stutter-step move, still on his feet. Inside the five -- touchdown!

ANNOUNCER- Caught by Robert Smith at the 15, down the sideline ...

ANNOUNCER- Smith made a turn!

ANNOUNCER- Touchdown, Vikings!

ANNOUNCER- What a move by Robert Smith!

JEREMY SCHAAP, ESPN CORRESPONDENT- Eighteen months after retiring from the NFL, Robert Smith has yet to slow down.

When people ask you, what do you do, Robert, how do you respond?

SMITH- Say --I've got to say, it just depends on the day. You know, up at the crack of noon sometimes. You know, it just depends on the day and what comes up.

But it's -- what's funny, though, when people ask me that I say, for somebody with nothing to do, it seems like I've got a lot of (expletive deleted) to do.

SCHAAP- When he's not riding his motorcycle, skydiving or driving his sports cars, Smith fills his days writing his memoirs, inventing gadgets and raising money for charity.

He's also a businessman with interests in technology and construction. Football is far from his thoughts. It was his profession, never his passion.

Why did you give it up?

SMITH- The simplest answer is, better to walk away early than limp away late.

I know that I'll never have the ring that represents the ultimate achievement in the sport that I played. I know I'll never have that, and that hurts.

But, I also know that I feel great now. And that's something to say for a guy that had four knee surgeries, double hernia surgery, three elbow surgeries. That's something to say.

And I got some things done in the game. And I still feel comfortable with the fact that 20 years, 30 years down the line, I'll be feeling as great as I do now, unless there's something else stupid I do off the field, you know, that's going to injure me.

SCHAAP- Like motorcycling?

SMITH- Motorcycling. Riding the donor cycle, the "suicycle," you know, something like that. At least I know that somebody's going to have a nice anatomical gift.

But by the time they -- by the time they reach me they may, you know, have enough heart tissue to like put into a hamster or something like that, or ...

SCHAAP- What do you think made it possible for you to say, I'm done?

SMITH- I never saw myself as a football player. I saw myself as a person that played football. And I think that too many people identify themselves with their career. And that's not who you are, it's what you do.

SCHAAP- Smith has never allowed the game to define him. At Ohio State, he was the Big Ten freshman of the year, but as a sophomore, he famously quit the team. He said the coaching staff mocked his academic pursuits and interfered with his studies.

He now says he should have handled the situation differently.

SMITH- If I had that to do over again, I would have never left the team. You can effect a greater amount of change by being within a system than by leaving a system, you know. As a hotheaded 19-year-old, you know, that's something that doesn't make as much sense to you.

But now as the old, wise man that I am now, it makes more sense to me.

SCHAAP- Smith still hopes to effect change. He's a part-time social critic and a full-time thinker.

SMITH- I want to stop the world sometimes and say, wake up. What are you thinking? Or why aren't you thinking? And why aren't you using the powers of reason that we all have at a different level with some -- to really think about what it is that you're saying or doing and how that's going to affect other people and affect the world around you?

And sometimes I get frustrated, very frustrated; by the lack of understanding that people have of the world around them.

SCHAAP- Above all else, Smith has always been true to himself and to his beliefs.

He recently wrote a letter to "USA Today" expressing some of those beliefs. Smith wrote, "As a former pro athlete, I'm tired of hearing complaints about over-paid athletes. If Americans didn't spend so much time watching and reading about sports, athletes wouldn't be paid as much."

Smith concluded the letter with this admonishment.

"Maybe critics of athletes' salaries should put down their sports pages and pick up an economics book -- or any book, for that matter."

The letter is vintage Smith. If there's anything he can't abide, it's what he perceives as ignorance.

What prompted you to write that editorial, to send it to "USA Today"?

SMITH- Well, I had seen so much of it. I had seen so much in their letter section about, people complaining what athletes make and how they're whining and how they're spoiled.

And it just got to be too much for me. It was like, just tired of it. Once again, you shouldn't talk about things that -- I shouldn't say you shouldn't talk about them, but you should try to understand something before you say something, especially in that kind of forum, something that goes out across the country like that.

SCHAAP- As a former NFL player representative, Smith has given baseball's labor strife a great deal of thought.

SMITH- Collective bargaining agreements are about bargaining. And one side gives a little, one side takes a little.

But people, when they hear strike, they think it's always about salary, and I know that there's a luxury tax issue, and the revenue sharing issue.

Baseball's just a mess. And unfortunately, they don't have a Gene Upshaw running their union, or they'd be in a lot better shape right now.

SCHAAP- Smith says that Upshaw, the long-time head of the NFL Players Association, isn't given the credit he deserves.

SMITH- The more I saw it, I was just unbelievably impressed with what the man had done, and what he has done for the game. The benefits package is the best in professional sports.

Now, you could talk about certain aspects of baseball that are better, or certain aspects of salary that are better for other leagues and other athletes.

But bottom line is, the health of the league, the salary situation, the benefits situation, which is most important in football because of the number of injuries, is untouched by any of the professional sports.

SCHAAP- Do you think it's easier for fans to rip players making a lot of money than executives or entertainers, in part because of race?

SMITH- Absolutely. And, you know, I'm not -- I'm not the person to call the race card. You know what I mean? But it is absolutely appropriate in this case. And it's not the race card, but I think that it's a general sense that athletes are stupid.

People will just want to throw that out there. And it is a part of it for a lot of fans. They say, look, there's a dumb black athlete making $5 million a year. This guy doesn't deserve this money. He's not, you know, he's not educated. You know, he left school early, you know, he probably beats his wife. You know, he's out boozing every night, you know, which they're probably doing themselves, too.

But, man, you know, I want to blame somebody else. Do as I say, not as I do.

SCHAAP- Do you think fans understand what players go through?

SMITH- I don't think most of the population understands about most of the things that they talk about. There's a fascination with celebrity in this country.

And in the information age, information is king. Well, misinformation is certainly queen, at least in this country, maybe a mistress, something.

But people talk about salaries and they don't understand. You're watching this on TV all the time. You're sitting in front of your TV all day on Sunday -- and Monday night. That's what people talk about, that's what people do.

And you can't have it both ways. You can't spend that much time paying attention to something, and your culture being so fascinated with it, and putting so much emphasis on it, and then not have those people compensated well.

Look at actors. I mean, I played for eight years. All of the surgery, all of the things that happened to me, and it was about $20 million I made playing the game, which is what John Travolta will make for one movie, or Jim Carrey.

But do I think that they're overpaid? Hell, no.

LEY- Well, joining us to consider the athlete's share of the pie, Scott Boras, whose roster of Major League clients include Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Greg Maddux and Bernie Williams and many others. Scott joins us this morning from Irvine, California.

George Will is a commentator for ABC News and a columnist. He served on baseball's blue ribbon economic panel, and he currently sits on the board of the San Diego Padres. And he, this morning, is in Washington, D.C.

Good morning to you both, gentlemen.

Scott, let me get your take on the athlete's share of the pie, especially in light of something one of your clients -- probably your most notable client -- Alex Rodriguez said Friday evening in the Bronx, saying, you know, if it would help these baseball talks, I'd take a 30, 40 percent pay cut.

What is the fair share of the pie?

SCOTT BORAS, SPORTS AGENT- I think that the changes and it's measured both by the individual performance of the athlete, and it also is measured by the success of the industry at the time the athlete is entering a time in his life when he's to be compensated.

So, there's a lot of variables. It changes. We know that athletes who are in their 40s get paid a lot less than athletes who are in the primes of their career.

So, it's not forever, but certainly the success of the game, when revenues go up from $1.5 billion to $4 billion, certainly the salaries of the athletes are going to correspondingly increase as well.

LEY- Well, in that regard, what was Alex trying to say, do you believe, when he made that offer? I mean, he said yesterday, I was talking off the cuff.

But, you know, to feel constrained to make that statement with a baseball strike staring him in the face, what was he trying to say?

BORAS- I have not talked to Alex about that. I think Alex cares a great deal about the game. I -- what I read from it, he felt that if there was a way to allow him to continue baseball, that -- playing baseball, which is his first love, that he would -- I think he was directing the point that certainly, the system has defined a salary for him.

But the fact of the matter is he loves to play, regardless of what the system has defined his salary to be from point A to point B.

You have to remember, there was a time in Alex's career where he had a near-MVP type season, and he was making the minimum salary. So, those are things I think he was trying to convey.

LEY- George, carving up the pie -- what about it?

GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST & ABC NEWS COMMENTATOR- Well, Scott just put it correctly. The system defined the context in which he and A-Rod approached the Texas Rangers.

There's nothing wrong with what Scott did. He can negotiate my next ABC contract any time he wants. And there's nothing wrong with what A-Rod did.

There is something profoundly wrong with the system -- and we shouldn't personalize it -- the system that does not produce competitive balance within the league.

Interestingly enough, nothing the owners have proposed would roll back salaries, is intended to or would limit -- prevent salaries from growing or put a ceiling on what individual players or players as a group can own.

It's simply about moderating what has been going on already, which is the steady growth. Players do create enormous wealth, and should get a large slice of it, and do.

LEY- But how much, that's the question, Scott.

BORAS- Well, I think that the system, while we have situations where we have owners entering the system who pay $100 million for a team. We have owners entering the system who pay $500, $600, $700 million for teams.

So that issue has yet to be resolved as to what is the fair share for those individual owners. We have disparities between revenues of individual clubs in regions.

How we devise a fair and just answer to that, I think is what we're beginning ...

LEY- But at the end of the day, though, both the gentlemen, the public pays the freight on this. And I will just postulate that, you know, perhaps some of what Alex was saying had to do with the image of players the other evening.

Where do appearances begin to fuel this debate, in that the people who are paying the freight at this, when ticket prices go up or whatnot, are staring at another strike?

WILL- I think the strike does focus attention on ticket prices, and does, by the way, obscure the fact that among the major sports, baseball is a bargain of family entertainment, particularly compared to the NBA where the average ticket price is $50, or the NFL.

But it is the case that in the last -- since 1998, ticket prices have increased 37 percent. And there does come a point at which the costs get passed on to the customer. And the customer is objecting, not just because the cost is what it is, but because the cost is accompanied by these rather unseemly atmospherics every few years.

LEY- Well, where is the sense of social -- is there a sense of social responsibility in this, Scott, on either side of the table? When carving up the pie, to say, maybe we should leave some dollars out there, because in going for the last dollar, it doesn't look right.

BORAS- Well, I think that when you -- first of all, when you speak of baseball and you're talking about ticket prices, there's no relationship, I think, between player salaries and ticket prices.

I think that what owners are going to charge fans for tickets are what the market will bear. And they're in business, and that's what I think the entertainment dollar goes to.

And that's how you -- because we see clubs that are spending one-third the payroll, that have ticket prices that are very similar to the clubs that are spending, you know, three times that.

So, I think when you're talking about perception, if an athlete performs, or David Letterman makes $30 million, or Katie Couric makes $13 million, the fact of the matter is, the public doesn't associate dollars and cents with them if their performance is something that the public deems is worthy.

Where you have an image issue is where you have highly compensated people who aren't performing. And when you see that in sports, or you see that in any other part of life, you're going to question whether or not this is the correct statement as to, you know, what we should be doing with that individual.

LEY- But it is even, when they do perform sometimes, when people look at telephone number salaries, is it simply those that are in a hitting slump, George?

WILL- Again, I think it's the fact that baseball salaries are accompanied by the constant threat of work stoppages and the interruption of what the fans want.

All the fans really want is when they turn on the television or go to the ballpark, there's a game to be played.

If you would quit having the sports pages read like the "Wall Street Journal," people would get the business side of baseball back where it belongs, which is not in the foreground, I think people would pay much less attention to this.

Again, Katie Couric, Bruce Springsteen, actors getting $20 million a movie -- people don't object to that. They object to it when people, when they associate the salary with an interruption of their pleasure.

LEY- All right, well to step aside for just a second. And when we return, we'll show you how the best pitcher in baseball assesses the blame for players he says are taking too much from the game, and Curt Schilling mentions the name Scott Boras.

CURT SCHILLING, PITCHER, ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS- I guess you give Scott Boras a pat on the back for screwing everything up, but, you know, he got his.

LEY- We are back with Scott Boras and George Will considering an athlete's share of the pie. You heard a taste of it before the break, and Scott, I'm going to give you a chance to respond.

Let's play the entire sound bite. Curt Schilling on the Dan Patrick radio show about three or four weeks ago, talking about where he places blame in the current baseball situation economically.

SCHILLING- It's two people's fault --Tom Hicks and Scott Boras. I mean, I guess you give Scott Boras a pat on the back for screwing everything up, but, you know, he got his. And Scott Boras has never been about anything but getting his, you know.

To me, he's everything that's wrong with sports, and always has been, always will be.

LEY- We learn on the movie "The Godfather," Scott, it's always business, it's not personal.

In that vein, how would you respond to that?

BORAS- Well I think -- I assure you that Curt Schilling is the only major leaguer that I know of that would, I think, address the appropriateness of Alex Rodriguez's placement in baseball's compensation schedule.

I think that there's been a lot said about Tom Hicks, and about the fact that he bid against himself. And I can only tell you that I'm not the type of negotiator that reveals who came in second.

There were numerous major league teams that were pursuing Alex Rodriguez. My job is to define a marketplace. Being a former minor league player and being an attorney, you work in this industry day in, day out. You realize the uniqueness of these players' skills.

We've had a chance now to look over the past two years about where Alex, what Alex has done. And I just, you know, we know who he is, what type of player he is. And ...

LEY- He's working on an MVP season right now ...

BORAS- Yes, ...

LEY- ... with 45 homeruns.

WILL --I just wanted to move along ...

BORAS- I just want to finish.

LEY- OK. Go ahead.

BORAS- I just want to point out. I think it's unfortunate that a player uses his platform of excellence -- and Curt Schilling is in excellence too -- to point out individual things rather than systematic elements at this time.

And I think the issue is the system.

LEY- Robert Smith, George, raised the race card, about the perception of athletes and all this money. How valid is that?

WILL- I think there's no validity to it whatever. I think Mr. Smith is in a time warp.

Go out on the street of any American city, stop anyone you want and ask them the three most admired Americans, they're apt to say Oprah Winfrey, Colin Powell and Michael Jordan. The nation is no longer obsessed with race the way it used to be.

Furthermore, the popularity of the NBA exploded just as the NBA was becoming dominated by wonderful African-American athletes. I see no -- zero -- racial component in the argument about this system.

What the fans object to is not that someone's making a lot of money, not that someone of a particular race is making a lot of money.

What fans object to most of all is that they're tired of seeing one or two teams celebrate a World Series victory on their pitcher's mounds. And they would like to be in the game in October.

LEY- George, ...

WILL- That's what they're complaining about.

LEY- If I could, George, in one sentence, the unity of the players and the chances of a strike -- quickly.

WILL- I believe we're in end game here, that this is a test of nerve. A strike is a test of the pain threshold of each party. I do not believe there will be a strike.

LEY- Scott, unity of the players and the chances of a strike.

BORAS- I agree with George. I think that we're not negotiating philosophy, we're negotiating numbers. I'm very hopeful we can reach a conclusion on this.

LEY- All right, gentlemen, thank you very much. Scott Boras and George Will. Thank you a great deal for being with us this morning.

Next up, the feedback, and it was considerable, to last week's debate over the Little Leaguer who called his shot.

HAROLD REYNOLDS, ESPN- We live in a society with kids who have thick heads. They didn't grow up watching "Leave It To Beaver."

You know, this is not the same society that I grew up in.

RICK WOLFF, CHAIRMAN, CENTER FOR SPORTS PARENTING- Yeah, but Harold, it's not the kids' responsibility to be educated about sportsmanship. It's the parents.

LEY- After last Sunday's discussion, the issue re-ignited Wednesday in Williamsport. A player from the Harlem team was warned over his actions following a home run. The team was told any further incidents would mean ejection. There were no other celebration controversies.

But that topic did hit home with many viewers on both sides of the issue that we called last week "Baby Ruth." A viewer from New York City writing and saying, "What's the big fuss over this kid pointing with his bat? Babe Ruth is highly praised for doing the same thing in a real baseball game. In fact, it's part of his legend. But when a Little Leaguer does the same thing, he's called a hot dog and ruining the game. I guess if a Little Leaguer came from Omaha, not Harlem, the media treatment would have been totally different."

From Houston, "As a 13-year-old baseball player, I am disgusted by the showboating Fernando Frias displayed. I would also like to say Harold Reynolds is off base in saying that kids talking trash and showboating does not anger players. I have no doubt that if a kid called a shot on me, I would throw the first pitch in his ear."

And this from Westbrook, Maine. "I am 12 years old and played Little League for Westbrook, Maine just two weeks ago in Bristol, Connecticut. I know you look at it from an adult's point of view, but if you were a kid and just gave your team a shot at the Little League World Series, wouldn't you be jumping for joy?"

Now Outside The Lines is online, keyword OTLWeekly at ESPN.com. You can check our transcripts and our video of all our Sunday morning programs, and we look forward to you e-mail, on the player's piece of the pie.

Our address, otlweekly@espn.com.

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