Just a Little More

moreThe Edmonton Oilers traded star left winger, Ryan Smyth, to the New York Islanders in February of 2007. Every sports trade has its multifaceted reasons. This one was about money—yet about so much more.

Ryan Smyth ranked among the National Hockey League’s elite skaters. He was adored by the hockey-crazed Edmonton fans for his work ethic, courageous heart, and fundamental hockey skills. Smyth was also among Edmonton’s most respected citizens. Exemplary in behavior, winsome in demeanor, and revered for his charitable contributions to the community, Ryan Smyth and the Edmonton Oilers seemed to be a match made in hockey heaven.

A native Albertan, Smith had been drafted by the Oilers in 1994—the team he idolized as a child. By 2007, his wife and two daughters were happily settled in Edmonton and the 31-year-old’s career was winding down. In reach was the rare opportunity to finish with the team that drafted him. The Oilers management wanted nothing less for “Captain Canada.” Then new contract negotiations started.

Smyth’s agent, Don Meehan, insisted the Oilers pay their star $27.5 million over 5 years. He reasoned this was a mere $250,000 more per year than the contracts two similarly gifted players, Alex Tanguay (Calgary) and Simon Gagne (Philadelphia) had recently inked with their clubs. Whether to feed Smyth’s ego or to line Meehan’s pockets, making a pittance more per year than Tanguay and Gagne became paramount.

After lengthy negotiations, the Oilers offered Smyth $27 million and a no-trade clause—a magnanimous provision intended to acknowledge Edmonton’s indebtedness to Smyth for his contributions to the community by assuring he would not suffer the indignity of being cast off by the team as the gap between his declining skills and lucrative salary widened. This contract would make Smyth a rich man. His family would retain their roots in Edmonton. His number 94 jersey would eventually hang from the rafters at Rexall Place for generations to come.

Meehan refused to budge. He wanted $27.5 million for his client, not $27 million. When the trade deadline passed on February 27, a stunned Mr. Smyth was packing his bags for New York. Smyth called a news conference at the airport on his way out of town the next day. He wept before live cameras, tearfully assuring his fans his heart was in Edmonton. He pleaded for them to understand that this was not how things were supposed to end, which could only mean Oiler management was supposed to give him the money he wanted.

Ryan Smyth’s sad ordeal bears interesting parallels with the local saga of St. Paul Saints’ pitcher, Matt Harrington. Drafted as a 19-year-old in 2000, Harrington was offered a nearly $4 million contract from the Colorado Rockies. Harrington’s agent, Tommy Tanzer, battled for more money. Harrington never signed. In 2001 he was drafted by the San Diego Padres. New agent Scott Boras believed his client was being undervalued. Harrington refused the Padres $1.2 million offer. As Matt’s stock continued its precipitous fall, the window to develop his skills closed. Harrington never signed a major league contract. He never will. At the time this story hit the press, Matt was a husband and father earning $1,500 per month pitching for the Saints.

It is hard not to scoff at these torturous accounts of high stakes gambling. How could anyone with so much to lose quibble over $100,000 per year when he’s making $5 million? How can a teenager with nothing to lose reject a $4 million salary as insufficient? Unimaginable! Or, is it?

The unchallenged assumption that seems to naturally lodge in all our hearts is that more money is inherently better than less money. This assumption, in turn, is rooted in the subsoil of discontentment. Were we wholly content with what we now have, rather than driven by the desire for more—a desire often fueled by comparisons with others—the ground would be removed from under the “more is always better” mindset.

There is no intrinsic evil in gaining more money. The mischief comes when this underlying discontentment clouds our ability to esteem less tangible values as too costly to sacrifice on the altar of financial gain. We can venture our own high-stakes gambles, sacrificing family ties, generational roots, child nurture, emotional stability, community betterment, and even ethical integrity, all for the chance to gain more money or purchase greater earthly pleasures.

Against this destructive orientation, Jesus counseled his followers to recognize that our lives do not consist in the abundance of our possessions but in how rich we are toward God (Luke 12:13-21). People rich toward God are people whose contentment is rooted in him as the all-sufficient source of joy (Phil. 4:11-13). Such rootedness immunizes the soul against the love of money by feeding it on a superior love. This love is never blinded by dollar signs because its gaze is fixed on the pleasures of an eternal city—a city whose joys are breaking into this world and capturing hearts as we speak (Heb. 11:8-10).

[node:bio/pastor-dan-miller body]

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There are 6 Comments

Ed Vasicek's picture

Thanks, Dan, for this piercing article. It makes the point.

"The Midrash Detective"

JobK's picture

It is just a pet peeve that I have. We have this disproportionate focus on the "greed" of athletes when A) they generate billions of revenue, Cool their window for earning money is extremely high C) they risk and sacrifice their bodies even in non-contact sports like baseball, basketball and D) they are very specialized and skilled workers ... literally only a few hundred or thousand humans out of a global population of 6 billion can do what they do.

Even in the general entertainment sphere, we hear nothing about the greed of Hollywood actors, directors and musicians, who make far more than athletes, whose skills are far less rare, whose occupations are much less risky, and can have careers that last half a century or longer, and when you consider that most Hollywood projects fail to make a profit (whether albums that don't sell, movies that go bust and TV series that flop ... most Hollywood projects serve as tax writeoffs for large corporations ... the independent companies who actually relied on profits from their projects have long since gone out of business or been acquired by huge companies) generate far less revenue.

And getting out of the athletics and into the business world ... why is it that criticizing corporate and Wall Street greed only something that liberal Christians are willing to do consistently? What Enron, Lehman Brothers, Arthur Anderson, Morgan Stanley, etc. did were far more harmful - and in many cases very criminal by the way - than what some hockey player did. Also, the "just a little bit more" thing applies just as much to the bad decisions that middle and upper class people seeking a few thousand dollars that they don't need - including working extra hours seeking a promotion/raise and being a dual income family - just as much as it does the rich and famous. I think that the focus is on athletes because we see them as someone who would be a middle or working class fellow if it wasn't for his ability to swing a bat so why quibble over a hundred thousand or million when it is more than what they "deserve", but it is amazing how we don't know how the standard of living for the working and middle class in this country is so much higher than it is in other countries. Not just third world countries mind you, but even in a lot of developed, modern and stable countries, our middle class would be considered wealthy, and that puts the sacrifices that so many working/middle/upper class Christian families routinely make for things that would be considered great luxuries if we lived in even among the more affluent nations in Asia, Latin America and eastern Europe in a different context.

Basically, athletes - or at least athletes other than Tim Tebow - are easy targets. (For that matter, so is Hollywood, because Hollywood is unpopular with conservative Christians anyway.) But talking about corporate and middle/upper class greed - basically greed in a context that no conservative talk radio host or Fox News personality would either never address or defend as a virtue necessary for the American way of life - would likely challenge a lot more people to actually THINK about how their personal lifestyles and values align with the world as opposed to scripture. Going after athletes or other easy targets might be an invitation for people to choose convenient finger-pointing over introspection.

Solo Christo, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura

JG's picture

JobK wrote:
Going after athletes or other easy targets might be an invitation for people to choose convenient finger-pointing over introspection.

You just spent almost as many words as the original article.

The net result is that people who read the article AND the comments are more likely to be thinking (positively or negatively) about some of the political undertones of your comment than they are to be engaging in...


One has to admit that the illustrations chosen by the author make his point well, they are easy to understand, and they are unlikely to distract from his point, as many other illustrations might for many of his readers.

M. Osborne's picture

Yes, I believe the article turns to its point with the line, "Unimaginable! Or, is it?" I believe that line is like Nathan's "Thou art the man." Just as I'm ready to go protest outside a stadium at exorbitant salaries, I'm asked to make sure that I'm not doing the same thing in my own petty way.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Jim's picture

My take: It's not wrong to improve one's earning potential and aspire to increase one's income.

It's right to earn an income and provide for self and not be a burden on the church or society.

Obviously (and I'm sure someone is thinking this) this must be balanced against the truth of 1 Timothy 6:9: "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition"

In the tiers of prosperity (Tier # 1 is most important ... of eternal consequence!): "I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers" (3 John 2)

  • Tier # 1: One's soul prospers
  • Tier # 2: One's health prospers
  • Tier # 3: One prospers materially
Don Johnson's picture

As a life-long follower of the Oilers, how could you? You don't know the agony we go through when things like this happen. The only positive I can see is you didn't make it about The Trade.

However, as a somewhat rational fan, I think that the article is correct. Ryan Smith and his agent got caught in a game of financial chicken and lost. Sometimes money clouds one's better judgement. I think if he had it to do over again he would never have been traded.

And, by the way, we've got him back... for now. There is some kind of trouble about the contract for this fall, so who knows, Ryan may be making the same mistake twice.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

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