Teams more likely to keep players off bikes
If the injuries sustained by Jay Williams and Kellen Winslow Jr. didn't alert players, teams and agents on the exposure they face when their million dollar bodies are involved in motorcycle crashes, news of Ben Roethlisberger's accident might do the trick.
Roethlisberger's accident is a good reason why.
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Roethlisberger's contract doesn't specifically forbid him from riding motorcycles. Most don't. However, agents say his accident might encourage teams to put specific language about motorcycle use in more contracts to protect their pricey investments. They would also avoid having to rely on an arbitrator to determine whether a player participated in an activity that involved "a significant risk of personal injury" in the case of an accident. That phrase is included in all professional contracts.
Williams' accident in June 2003 prompted more NBA teams to spell out that their players couldn't use motorcycles -- even those that didn't have an interest in riding one -- said agent Bill Duffy, whose company, BDA Sports, represents more than 30 NBA players, including Williams.
"They definitely tightened up their language," Duffy said. "Now, in a lot of situations, it's very cut-and-dried."
Although the Bulls reportedly gave Williams about $3 million of the $7.7 million he would have made, they technically didn't have to award him anything since his contract included a clause prohibiting motorcycle use.
While standard contracts don't include specific language about riding motorcycles -- baseball, for example, won't allow "motorcycle racing," but doesn't prohibit riding one -- agent Lon Babby says the more money a team is guaranteeing, the more likely it is for that team to tell its player what he can and cannot do.
"The list of dangerous activities always seems to be expanded when there is more money being paid," said Babby, who represents Seattle Supersonics guard Ray Allen, Memphis Grizzlies forward Shane Battier and Baltimore Orioles third baseman Melvin Mora, among others. "Obviously the team wants to protect themselves from what would undermine the guarantee."
Many agents go out of their way to make sure their clients know they are still risking losing what was once guaranteed money.
"Gary Payton got a custom Harley when people were crazy about them seven years ago," said Aaron Goodwin, the agent for the Miami Heat guard. "After he was explained the risk of potentially losing money on his contract, that thing has been parked ever since."
Agents are supposed to fight for their players -- and that's exactly why agent Gary Wichard says he'll encourage more teams to put a specific clause in contracts that bans motorcycles.
"My players might fight me," says Wichard, a former biker who currently represents Baltimore defensive end Terrell Suggs and Boston Celtics forward Wally Szczerbiak. "But they will eventually thank me."
Wichard knows all about the tension motorcycles cause in the athlete-agent relationship. He represented Brian Bosworth, who loved his motorcycle and rode one in "Stone Cold," a 1991 film he starred in.
"My players may argue with me that they want to ride, but it's pretty hard to convince me that it's not in your best interest not to be on that bike," said Wichard, who noted that one of his clients, Jason Taylor, has stopped riding a motorcycle.
Some agents also hope that Roethlisberger's accident will make it easier to explain the reason why their biking-inclined clients should stop.
Said Mark Bartelstein, an agent who represents Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and 2006 NBA draft prospect Adam Morrison: "Given the number of accidents we have seen in recent years, it's certainly becoming a topic that is being addressed more and more."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org
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• Roethlisberger interview: morning of the crash