Commentary

Breaston's heartfelt thoughts refreshing

Wideout's lockout-inspired poem served as reminder that alienated fans deserve better

Originally Published: June 22, 2011
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston recently wrote a poem about the NFL lockout, a creative flow that netted a little buzz after he recited it on YouTube.

What it should've done by now was attract more viewers searching for a sympathetic voice in the midst of all this drama. Breaston's poem spoke to his pent-up frustration and the mounting disillusionment of fans. It was his way of letting everybody know the collateral damage that has resulted from what has been a four-month-long feud.

It's nothing new to see Breaston, 27, writing poetry; that's something he's been doing since he became a star at the University of Michigan. What is refreshing is the sight of a player actually opening up about the way the lockout has impacted his life. Too often we've seen the athletes repeating talking points while they finish their workouts at high school fields across the country. Too rarely have we heard them try to express more personal opinions about the subject.

That was before Breaston sat before a camera in a cramped room and began preaching his thoughts on forgotten fans and greed-driven squabbling.

[+] EnlargeSteve Breaston
Chris Morrison/US PresswireThe Cardinals' Steve Breaston made it clear that he values what fans contribute to the game.

"I was in disbelief that it had gotten as far as it had when [the lockout] started," Breaston said. "You had heard about it for a couple years, and you did things to prepare for it. But once it got here, I still felt caught off guard by it. You think that people are preparing to get things resolved quickly, and then that doesn't happen. All we want to do is get back to playing football and being with our teammates. And right now we're not doing that."

It's important to note that Breaston isn't breaking ranks with his brethren at a point when the players and owners are reportedly progressing on a new collective bargaining agreement. If anything, he's setting an example that should've been made much sooner. One reason this lockout has become so tiresome for fans is that it's harder to tell the players from the owners these days. All people see is a profession that generates $9 billion in the midst of a dilapidated economy. If you're watching at home, you really don't care who's in the right at this stage.

What Breaston did was remind people that players are the best link to the fans. Before he wrote that poem, the players could've been reaching out to the public far more often than they've done. They could've allowed fans to view their workouts. They could've staged autograph signings when they were done. The players could've used any opportunity possible to let fans know how much they're valued.

Breaston accomplished that much in a video that lasted all of 62 seconds.

"What really gets me is that when you step away from the game, you really see the people who support you," he said. "The fans are the ones who've helped build this game. They're buying the tickets, the jerseys and everything else. There are people who plan their whole vacations around going to training camp, and they don't know what's going to happen."

Breaston is especially aware of how much this time of year means to the excitement that becomes momentum for the season. He knows how fans eagerly await the arrival of their season tickets. He understands how buzz builds over the addition of draft picks and new free agents to rosters across the league. Breaston looks forward to this period in the offseason with similar anticipation. This is when players and teams really hone their skills and create the chemistry for the season that lies ahead.

Yet Breaston also hopes his poetry informs people on the way his life has been affected by all this. Yes, he's a well-paid pro football player, but he's also a middle-class citizen in a sport where the richest dominate the headlines.

Breaston has gone from being a talented return man as a rookie to a solid receiver who's averaged nearly 60 receptions in the past three seasons. He would like the chance to reap the benefits of all the work he's put in this far. Unlike a Larry Fitzgerald or Andre Johnson, there is no likelihood that he will ever see a fat contract or have a career that spans 10 or more years.

At this point, Breaston doesn't even know whether the NFL will honor his status as an impending unrestricted free agent. (As a player with four years of experience, he would be eligible under the current proposal being discussed by players and owners.) He also has to wonder what will happen if the lockout runs deep into the summer.

"If this lasts until August, I have to think about how big the window for free agency will be," he said. "I'll be thinking about leaving for a new team or staying somewhere that I'm comfortable, and I might not have a lot of time to decide. It's not just about going to a new team. It's about something that will impact your whole life, and you don't want that to be a snap decision."

For now, Breaston will remember one important philosophy that all his peers likely are embracing: You can worry only about the things you can control. That means he'll keep working on his conditioning and his craft while the collective bargaining talks continue. He'll also continue thinking about his poetry and other ways to express his creative side. What Breaston won't do, however, is spend much time getting his hopes up as reports increase about the possibility of a settlement coming soon.

There already have been too many times when Breaston has heard that talks were going well, only to discover that the situation had unraveled.

"I'm to the point that I'll only be excited when I walk out of a workout and somebody tells me this is over," Breaston said.

There is little question that most people, both inside and outside the game, share that same opinion. The nice thing about Breaston is that when he speaks, you know he's talking from the heart.

Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.