February 25, 2005

My Vote for the Worst Job in Sports

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It’s been a rough week for sled dogs and rodeo clowns everywhere, not to mention mascots, soigneurs, wedge busters, towel boys, human punching bags, urine testers, and Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman. At least according to USA Today, these are nine of the ten worst jobs in sports.

It’s tough to argue that potty training a pro athlete or laundering a spent jock makes going to work much more enticing than chugging Listerine. Doing anything for the damn Yankees isn’t much easier to swallow; does it get worse?

Apparently. But on which athletic occupation will USA Today bestow its unenviable No. 1 ranking?

I suppose any of the competitors in the Guinness Book whose records go down as asinine history could take the cake: fastest time to do 1,000 skateboard ollies. World record wife carrier. Most trampoline Baranis in one minute. I mean, Barani…anyone?

You can also make a case for football kickers. Remember Ace Ventura: Finkel went from hero to zero in the span of one snap. Laces up, Dan!

Coaching a prime-time Texas high school football squad can get nasty, too. The Odessa locals nearly ran Billy Bob Thorton out of town in Friday Night Lights, and, like a tumbleweed on the horizon, Bud Kilmer faded into oblivion, never to coach again, after his boys staged a locker room revolt in Varsity Blues.

For better or worse, at least huskies and bull fighters get to keep their jobs.

Sparing further speculation, USA Today will release its top choice in this morning’s edition of the paper. While its official pick may trump mine, I’d still like to cast a vote. And it goes to the consummate ringmasters of professional sports: agents.

Aptly portrayed by Tom Cruise’s character in Jerry Maguire, those obsequious shadows lurking behind every pro may well have the worst job in athletics. The thankless profession transforms those who were once passionate sports fans into corporate turkeys stuffed with a noxious concoction of greed and client-aggrandizement. Devoid of self respect, agents become the whipping boys of professional athletes responsible for damage control, English instruction, and contract negotiation. In return, they get a percentage of the players’ salaries and a lifetime of headaches.

Sounds like hyperbole, until you consider the players some agents represent: Maurice Clarett, Barry Bonds, Dennis Rodman, Jose Canseco, Kobe Bryant, Latrell Sprewell… While squeaky clean pros like Tom Brady, Kurt Warner, or Mia Hamm seldom require an agent’s timely intervention, the firestorm some professional athletes generate keeps their representatives on emergency notice 24/7.

“Maurice, you don’t feel like working out at the skills test today? But you haven’t played since your freshman year; don’t you think you should? Ok, well I’ll just say it was my call to keep you out – wouldn’t want you to stub a toe.”

“Barry, you told them you thought those pills were vitamins? How are we ever going to get that halo to fit around your bulging muscles now?”

“Dennis, you pierced what?”

“Jose, just shut up.”

And if the steroid crises, loud mouths, infidelities, egos, PR nightmares, and anger management problems weren’t enough, some agents literally put their lives on the line for athletes. Case in point: former St. Louis Blues forward Mike Danton conspired to have his agent, David Frost, killed last year. Danton allegedly hatched the murder-for-hire plot when he suspected Frost would go to the Blues with “damaging information.” What information he had or what damage it might have caused, we may never know, but it certainly didn’t deserve a bounty.

It comes as no surprise, then, that one of the best jobs in all of college sports involves no agents or managers, no salary cap wars, publicity stunts, or ‘roids. Rather, one of sports most valuable pursuits remains one of its purest: Ivy League athletics.

Though not a profession by definition, Ivy League athletes practically have full time jobs. But unlike the Maurice Clarett’s of big-time programs, these athletes don’t receive cash handoffs, and few aspire to go pro. They compete for love of the game, not dreams of fame.

This month, as Canseco promotes his star-studded book, these students will hit the books. As angling agents try to hook everything from eighth graders to sixth-year seniors, Ivy athletes will try to land jobs and take the MCAT.

So it goes: the best will avoid the worst. While some of the Ancient Eight’s stars may take a urine sample or two in their careers, they’ll do it at the Mayo Clinic, not Pac Bell Park. And who knows? One day down the road, one of the Ivies’ athletes may even get a call for help from Bonds’ agent. I hear juice isn’t good for the joints.

Everett Hullverson is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. Chew On This will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Everett Hullverson