The longer the NFL remains in a lockout, the more I wonder how it affects the patience, resolve and resources of its players. I'm not talking about stars like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. I mean the league's rank-and-file, guys who aren't banking megabucks, aren't all that secure and may need their day jobs to survive.
So I checked in with Cincinnati offensive tackle Kirk Chambers, who's been with three clubs in seven NFL seasons and who freely admits he isn't sure what's in store next for him or his colleagues.
|Kirk Chambers was in camp with the Bills in August of 2010 and isn't sure what camp -- if any -- he will be in this summer. (US Presswire)|
That's because Kirk Chambers is making the most of this unexpected -- albeit unpaid -- vacation from pro football to help himself and his family, and I'm not talking about another job. Not yet, anyway. Nope, I'm talking about preparing for life without football for good -- which is going to happen to everyone, including Brady and Manning, some day.
Only for Kirk Chambers that could be any day, and it could be soon. He's an unrestricted free agent who turned 32 last month, and there's no guarantee he finds another job when the NFL opens its doors.
Chambers is a realist. He understands. Heck, he went through one season (2006) without working for anyone, so he knows what it's like to spend autumn without the NFL. Maybe that's why he's prepared for what's happening now. It's not as if this is the first time the Chambers family had Dad home for months. And maybe that's why he paid closer attention than others when the NFL Players Association last season warned its members to start saving, stop spending and do what it could to prepare for a possible lockout.
"We live within our means," he said, "so it's not a panic situation for us."
It could be. Chambers is a father of four girls, ages 7 years to 21 months, and like everyone else he has car payments, mortgage payments and insurance premiums. One thing about having four kids is that you better have a rock-solid health insurance policy, and Chambers does. But with the NFL lockout, it's through a COBRA plan offered by the league, and that plan is not cheap. In fact, Chambers said it costs his family approximately $2,300 a month, which he can live with for another couple of months.
But if the lockout is lengthy, he has a more cost-efficient private insurer lined up, and why should we be surprised? Offensive linemen are all about protection, and Chambers is a former Eagle Scout. Put the two together, and you have someone doing what he can to cover his family.
"It's something we prepared for, so we're fine," he said. "We have a reimbursement fund, and it helps to keep things under control. But I feel for the young guys who haven't been in situations like this or weren't prepared."
So do I. But I applaud older guys like Kirk Chambers who took the necessary precautions for today's lockout, which is why he's in better shape than some of those "younger guys" he mentioned. I'm not talking football shape, though he works out four times a week. I'm talking about managing a family and doing the right and responsible things to keep everyone moving forward. Chambers is doing just that by exploring options beyond football, including business school at BYU. Not only did he apply there; he was accepted and told the school will defer a spot for him if he returns to work this season.
Chambers said he was intrigued for years by the business profession and envisions moving on to another sports-related job -- perhaps as an athletic director at a college. All he knows is that it's a career he'd like to pursue, and, now that he has the time, he might as well get started. "The joke," he said, "is that I make a living pushing people around. Well, that's management isn't it?"
He laughed, and so did I. But the league lockout is no joke, and he knows it. He wonders what it means for him, and he wonders what it means for his peers. Mostly, he wonders when and how it ends. He obtains periodic updates from the Cincinnati Bengals' player rep and occasionally calls the NFL Players Association for updates. But most of his information about the lockout is from the Internet, and he'd like something more -- especially when his job depends on it.
"It's frustrating," he said. "It would be nice to be in the loop."
But that's what you gotta love about Kirk Chambers. Because he is in the loop. Maybe he's not up-to-date on the nuances of the labor dispute, but he understands what this lockout is about. And he not only prepared for it; he's taking advantage of it.
I already mentioned business school. Next week he and his family plan to spend the kids' spring vacation in a cabin in Utah, and I don't know about you, but I'd say that beats pushing weights four days a week in Cincinnati. That's not a knock on Cincinnati; it's a vote for understanding what's important and acting on it while you can.
Kirk Chambers is because, well, frankly, he has the time he did not a year ago or the year before that.
That doesn't mean he doesn't miss football or a paycheck or his Cincinnati teammates. What it does mean is that he understands how to make the lockout work for him and his family -- primarily because he had a chance to do it already. Someday he'll have a chance to do it again. But, for now, he's somewhere in between, and, as Kirk Chambers admitted, that's not all that bad.
"It's nice, I'm not going to lie," he said. "I don’t want to say I'm disconnected, but I get to give my kids and family time they wouldn't have. That's time we can never get back. The way I look at it, I have three to four weeks added to my offseason, and it's nice to have that luxury."