I Matter

By Matt Conley

I am a running back.

It used to be that teams would fret about replacing their backs as they aged, hoping to hold on to them like cherished heirlooms. I can only imagine what it was like to be any of the running backs of old. They had fans, glory… They were worshipped.

But not me.

It’s 2019 and things are different. Now we’re viewed as being more replaceable than coffee filters. Trash me when you’re done, there’s a box with 99 more right there.

It hurts, okay?

And I’m not just talking about the increasingly thankless pounding my body takes. It’s an emotional and financial pain you’re inflicting upon me. I would like to focus on the emotional trauma first, because I don’t think people realize how much their words, their indifference, their stats… hurt.

I’m important to the team, goddamn you. Ask our quarterback about the joke I told in the huddle that calmed him down before a key 3rd and 8 so he could hit that slant for the conversion. Sure, we were there because I gained two yards total on the two previous plays. But after we got the first down, no one seemed to care. You either can’t or won’t quantify that.

Ask our right guard, who I helped up after I ran into him and crushed him between myself and the opposing defensive tackle, grinding out my second credited broken tackle to finish off a three-yard gain. Yeah, I know, three yards. I could hear the jeering of the spreadsheets as I dragged my tired body from the ground. But I managed to push aside the vitriol from cell B4 long enough to be there for my teammate. Don’t tell me anyone could do my job. Not everyone would use precious energy to help up a 320-pound man who probably makes us listen to country music on Thursdays at practice. I’m useful, I’m unique, I matter.

But let’s talk about what’s really important: my wallet’s thickness. I don’t know if you use R or Python to figure out how cheap teams should be when it comes time to pay me, but the one named after the snake seems more appropriate. It’s bad enough people are starting to believe that the difference between Todd Gurley and Todd From Accounting is less than the difference between the Property Brothers at a celebrity basketball game. But that snake of yours doesn’t stop there. It also says that the natural conclusion is to make sure running backs don’t get paid at all. “Give all the money to the quarterbacks,” it slithers, its deceitful tongue inches from your eardrum.

Quarterbacks already get paid so well that they can treat the money they use to subsidize pseudoscience-spewing charlatans like a rounding error. Chase Daniels’ entire NFL career involves about 10 ineffective passes and he still has made enough to own several yachts with names like “The Clipboard Cruiser.” Quarterbacks don’t need more money.

I take more hits on a single running play than pampered primadonnas like Phillip Rivers do in an entire season. I was a fifth-round pick. After my rookie contract expires, I will have made a little more than two million dollars in four years. This might sound good to you, but that’s only $0.35 per dead brain cell. After taxes, it’s not going to pay much of my future medical bills in this country. In those first four years I need to get through about 1,000 touches, many of which I will spend getting speared by linebackers with the restraint and self-preservation instincts of Viking berserkers.

But this is all supposed to be worth it when I can get that life-changing money on my second contract. Stop ruining that. Our careers as running backs are already so nasty, brutish, and short my teammates call me the Leviathan. I don’t need it to be poor as well.

But it will be. My team will decide that they can replace me with whoever else they can draft in the fifth round in a few years. They’ll be picking a name out of a hat, or maybe picking the one that sucked up to them the best during the Combine interview. He’ll be ground up for a few years, then discarded, not a person but a vessel for pretending play-action passes require multiple runs to set up. Maybe he’ll even go to my neurologist, too, and we can trade stories.

I know what the analytics say. But think what you’re doing to me. I hope you do. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll decide to help me out and stuff the analytics into the locker where it belongs.

My future depends on it.