By this evening (Friday, August 31, 2012), NFL teams have to cut their rosters down to 53 players. For NFL fans, this is an exciting time: debates over who will make the team and who will not; the impatience for the start of the season; and the eagerness to see what the make-up of your team is going to be.
The often unseen, darker side of this deadline is the more than 700 athletes who will be out of job by the end of the day. Of course, for many of these guys, this is only a temporary situation. Other teams will pick up them, either for their rosters or for the practice squad. But for many, both veterans and rookies, the end of this preseason is the end of their professional football career.
As fans, we often get caught up in the specifics of the games and in the performances of the players. We get upset at poor play; call up radio stations to call for a player to be benched or cut. Or, maybe, we call for a coach to be fired. And maybe we are right to do so.
But we can easily forget that these are individual human beings. They have mortgages and families to support. They have dreams and goals in their professional and personal lives. They are working and training harder than most of us can even imagine—and have been doing so their whole adult lives and for a good chunk of their childhood.
For the veteran, the dreams of one last chance, of one more year in a long career, come to an unceremonious end. For the rookie, it is the realization that the dream of stepping onto an NFL field during a real game is just that: a dream. (This article by a former NFL player provides an account from the player’s perspective)
This is a sad moment; and ought to be acknowledged as such. The end of a career is the end of something of great value. The loss of that value should be mourned.
Nevertheless, it is good that it is like this. The rookie and the veteran get a chance to compete for positions. They got further along than most aspiring athletes. And many do make it, at least for a little while. More than that, the extraordinarily competitive environment of the NFL preseason allows for the best, most able players to emerge. Rookies don’t make it just because they were high draft picks, and veterans don’t make the team because of what they have done in the past. The primary test is of one’s ability and capacity to perform in the here and now. This is to the advantage to all: fans, teams, and players alike. It is even to the advantage of the players that get cut: for them it offers a system that allows them to compete and have a chance to prove themselves.