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Tuesday, Feb. 20
The Indiana Daily Student

sports

Column: NBA players should look to Manning for how to handle free agency

It has gone largely unnoticed by many, but the professional sports world might be in the midst of an unprecedented era of free agency.

Professional basketball, baseball and now football have each seen one of its top athletes, all undisputed franchise players, become free agents and ignite a sport-wide media frenzy bordering on obsession.

First was LeBron James two summers ago. Then Albert Pujols this past winter. And now Peyton Manning, who signed with the Denver Broncos on Tuesday.

There have been free agents of this caliber before: Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez (twice).

But there have never been so many in such a variety of sports, which makes the similarities and differences between them all the more apparent.

Perhaps the most notable common vein among the recent marquee free agents is that James, Pujols and Manning all ultimately left the only teams they had known up to that point.

To call each a franchise player would be an understatement.

James played for the team closest to his hometown, Pujols was the cornerstone of two championship teams and Manning was largely responsible for the Colts’ new stadium.

These are players who had restaurants and even children’s hospitals named after them.

And yet each of them left the only teams they had known in their professional careers.

That, in turn, leads to the differences.

The three each handled their free agencies, and had them portrayed publicly, in different ways that have or will affect how they are seen for the rest of their careers.

With no salary cap in baseball, there really were only a handful of teams that actually had the financial means to pony up the cash necessary for Pujols.

He did not draw out the process and pretend teams that did not have a chance to sign him did.

Instead, he was relatively professional throughout, including when he ultimately inked with the Angels.

Plus, he had another player near his caliber, Prince Fielder, who was also a free agent and could deflect some of the attention.

Manning was classy, as well, as has come to be expected of him.

He set a quick timeline for when he would arrive at a decision, and he stuck to it. He was even honest enough to tell teams that he would not sign with them prior to making his choice.

This is the way free agency should be handled.

“The Decision” is not. Nearly two years later, that ESPN debacle remains the shining example of what not to do.

James did nothing to dispel rumors during his free agency. Instead, he fed off of them and orchestrated exactly what he wanted, from his new team’s roster to his TV special.

The level of control he was given was disturbing, and he will never again command the public respect he once did.

Worse, a similar situation might be on the horizon. Dwight Howard once seemed to be a jovial young face for the NBA and represented much of what makes the game great.

His obvious love of the game was infectious.

This season, though, as he waffled back and forth on trade demands and contract options, he has been juvenile and selfish. And he is allowed to be.

The Magic reportedly offered to let Howard decide the fates of Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy and General Manager Otis Smith after this season.

The NBA is the most superstar-driven of professional sports leagues, but this is too much.

It is allowing a culture in which its unemployed stars are given more power and attention than is right.

Howard, James and future stars should take notice of how Manning has composed himself these past few weeks. He was honest, professional and still is coming out of this many millions richer.

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