Flashfiction: “Cutdown Day”

This past weekend was the time when 30% of the roster of each NFL team lost their jobs.  “Why,” I hear you cry, “should I care about millionaires getting fired?”

Because 90% of them ain’t rich.  All those huge contracts you hear about in the NFL?  Yeah, those go only to a handful of guys.  The vast majority of players are making something around the league minimum.  Now, that’s still a good salary by most standards, but it isn’t “retire for the rest of your life” money.

A lifetime of work and training…

A lifetime of pain and injuries and broken bodies…

A lifetime of consequences…

All for an average of three years playing for the league minimum.

Now, I’m a football fan but not a “football guy.”  No, I’m a hockey guy.  I know hockey, and hockey players.  And it’s just worse there.  Take those three years and play them for a salary that is barely middle-class (if that much) down in the minors and that picture gets a lot harder.  The pain and consequences are still the same, though.

Although it was the period for NFL cutdowns that got me thinking, I had to run with something I know.  The piece below is based on memories from a friend of mine:

“Cutdown Day”

Shit, did he hurt.  Two hours of pushing hard, two hours of sprints and hits, two hours of sweat and exhaustion…why do it?

Why do it?

He asked himself that every single morning, now.  He hadn’t asked it as a kid, when his mom would get him up for practice.  He hadn’t asked it in college, either, when the other students Would all praise him for the last game.  He hadn’t it asked it then, but he had to ask now.

His friends from school, they had all gone on to jobs.  Cars and condos and real lives.  Him?  He had three roommates in a rented two-bedroom, a place that didn’t even have his name on the lease.

A last chance, then, to impress the team.  A last chance to keep his place on the ice…and to keep the apartment that the team provided.

When he’d arrived that morning, it had been there, that which he most feared: a note on his locker.

“You’re on the bubble.  As of now, I ain’t gonna keep you,” the coach had said at the meeting.

He had spent thousands Just to get himself to training camp.  Had spent countless hours working the phone to friends and acquaintances just to get the invitation, and now he wouldn’t make it.

A last hour on the ice.  A last hit of water before that hour’s scrimmage, and he felt the coach’s eyes.  Oh, he knew the guy was watching the others, the ones who would get the contract offers, but still he felt those eyes.  Felt the disdain.

He felt the shame, too.  He had never failed before.

“Last chance!” the coach yelled to the milling players.  “Play your way on to the roster, or go home!”

A whistle to start the scrimmage.

Broke and soon-to-be-unemployed, what did he have to lose?  His resume had nothing on it, nothing but the blood and sweat and tears of a life of 5:00am practices and late night games.  How did you sell HR departments on bruises and concussions and pain As a job skill?

Fuck it, he thought, nothin’ left to lose.

He stood under the shower, after, and tried to soak away the blood and bruises from the scrimmage.  Every hit, every shot, every play, had been his last.  He would go home to his parents, broke and ashamed.

He would apply for that job at the call center and give up the dream he had had since he was five.  He would turn into that bitter, drunk guy that every local rink has, the one bitching about the pro career he never had.

After the shower, he wasn’t even surprised when he saw the note on his locker.  His gut still clenched, and his body shook, but that was shame and panic and desperation, not surprise.

Up the stairs, then, and into the coach’s cramped office.  An office that stank of old gear and mildew and hours-long bus rides up and down the east coast.

He didn’t say a word, just sat in the one chair and stared at the folder that sat on the desk, his death warrant waiting to be signed.  He flipped it open without saying a word.  What was there to say?

The papers inside, they meant nothing.  The words meant nothing. They couldn’t penetrate the fog.

“I told you to be ready to go,” the coach said, with no preamble, nothing to soften the sting.  “Practice starts in the gym at 6:00 Monday morning.  Sign the fucking contract and get your ass out of here.”

His hands were still shaking as he signed.

Note 1 — my friend, the guy who so barely made the roster of a minor-league team, went on to play ten years in the NHL…for the league minimum every single year.

Note 2 — WordPress just force-changed their creation and posting system.  Yeah, the option to use this new system has been there for some time, but I’ve ignored it.  Now I have to use it…and I have no idea how to.  I hate it.  I hate it to the point that I’m not sure it’s worth it to keep this blog going.  Sorry, I know that sounds petty, but I want to write, not spend my time trying to use some software idiot’s definition of a “good platform.”  I don’t get paid for this, so why bother?  We’ll have to see…

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