A Contract For Hope

Devon Still and his four-year old daughter, Leah.

Contracts between professional athletes and their respective teams are some of the most lucrative agreements we see in the world today. Players are rewarded for their on-field achievement as well as the hope they provide for future success. These contracts are guaranteed for the duration of the agreement in three of the four major professional sports leagues in our country today, with the exception being the National Football League. In professional football, contracts are not guaranteed, leaving is up to the owner’s discretion whose contracts will be honored and whose will be terminated. This agreement between professional football players and team owners regarding contracts is a situation that closely follows the principles outlined by Thomas Hobbes and has been in the news recently with an inspirational story from the Cincinnati Bengals.

Thomas Hobbes, writer of the 1651 publication Leviathan.

In excerpts from his 1651 text Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes details how he believes contracts should be made and used. According to Hobbes, all people are in a state of nature in which everybody is equal with no one person having more power than another. However, Hobbes did believe that for the efficiency of the State, there must be an absolute monarch who has power and is respected by all people. This means that everyone must submit to this monarchs’ rule, and according to Hobbes, relinquish some rights. Everybody made this covenant with the State, so the belief was held that the overall security and longevity of the State with be much higher. This framework that Hobbes details of a group of people contracting with an absolute monarch who makes all decisions as they see fit is also evident in the National Football League, and in particular, the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Cincinnati Bengals are a National Football League team that has recently conducted some very interesting business. As with all NFL teams, the Bengals signed many players to contracts to compete during training camp. Most of the players know they will not make the 53-man roster that will be used in the regular season, but they sign a contract hoping to earn themselves a spot. In 2012, the Bengals drafted a very successful college lineman named Devon Still. He played two seasons with the franchise, but during the summer of 2014, everything changed. He was in an intense fight for a roster spot when it was revealed that his four-year old daughter has cancer. This is a devastating blow to any human, let alone a professional athlete competing to play at the highest level. As training camp began to wrap up, it was announced that Still had been released in favor of other prominent players recently signed. He now faced the brutal task of having to fight cancer with no financial support or medical benefits for his daughter. This situation initially seemed very unfortunate until the Bengals owner decided to use tactics similar to those outlined by Hobbes to provide crucial support for Still.

Bengals owner Mike Brown, whose leadership embodies much of what Hobbes described.

Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown was able to significantly impact the life of Devon Still and his daughter when he made a decision in the mold of Thomas Hobbes’ social contract theory. Brown recognized the great expense and fight Still and his daughter were facing, especially because his contract had recently been terminated. To address this situation, Brown utilized tactics outlined by Hobbes. He decided to re-sign Still in order to provide the support and benefits that he and his daughter desperately needed. According to Hobbes, this is Brown’s right as a team owner because all players signed a contract acknowledging his as monarch of the team.  Brown felt that the best decision for the group would be to cut a prominent player with a non-guaranteed contract like a two-time BCS National Champion or a well-established running back. As owner, he has the absolute power to decide everything that happens with his team, and because all professional contracts are not guaranteed, he can terminate these deals at any time. Brown significantly lowers the value of the contracts between player and team because he cuts superior players in favor of a lesser player needing additional help. In accordance with Hobbes’s outline of power dynamics and absolute power, Mike Brown took advantage of his role in a sad situation and decided to creatively use his absolute power to benefit a man in need.

Thanks to the decision of Mike Brown that mirrors Thomas Hobbes’s theory, Devon Still’s daughter continues to fight her untimely disease with the additional support of the Bengals, the NFL, and sports fans everywhere. Over $1 million dollars have for pediatric cancer research because of this situation, and the Bengals are playing well on the field. The situation surrounding Devon Still could have had tragic consequences had Mike Brown acted with the supreme power Thomas Hobbes had outlined over 300 years ago to terminate contracts and re-sign a man who desperately needed help.

2 thoughts on “A Contract For Hope

  1. This was a great connection to make. I had heard a lot about Still and his situation, but would have never thought to relate it back to the idea of social contracts. Sometimes we ask ourselves “how social do we want a social contract to be” but this time, the social level of this social contract was in the favor of Still in his daughter. Someone like Burke would have totally disagreed with the decision to resign him as it is a change that is not a traditional idea. This blog was very interesting to read!

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  2. I enjoyed reading your blog post! I’ve been keeping up with Devon Still’s story because I find it so inspiring. Having to deal with a debilitating disease like cancer at such a young age is far from easy, but I’ve seen the love-filled father-daughter relationship Devon shares with Leah. As her father, he is one hundred percent emotionally supportive, but thanks to Bengals owner Mike Brown, Devon is now able to also be financially supportive during his daughter’s fight. Furthermore, Leah’s story has raised over $1 million for pediatric cancer research, which will be used to help future fighters like her. I thought you connected this heartwarming story well to class material and it was a nice positive spin on Hobbes’ idea of social contracts.

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