Last month, we launched the Save the Running Back campaign and SaveTheRunningBack.org, and I have to thank those who gave it such a positive reception, and really supported this endeavor of mine. The reaction was so strong that it even surprised me a bit.
I was most thrilled with the feedback from my peers. It actually gave the whole thing some credibility. I put myself out there, but as it turned out, I wasn’t the only one saying or believing this. People might have gone in feeling like it was a personal thing. But when you have other running backs, young and old, accomplished and aspiring, chiming in, it gave it some legitimacy.
Preach! RT @BleacherReport: VIDEO: @sj39 starts ‘Save the Running Back’ push to bring back days of @WalterPayton http://t.co/WiQt4tzyg6
— Jarrett W. Payton (@paytonsun) March 9, 2015
@sj39 I’m glad you speaking out and leading for us!! #STRB #SaveTheRunningBack
— Mark Ingram (@MarkIngram22) March 11, 2015
@sj39 glad someone is finally speaking on the issue #STRB #SaveTheRunningBack
— Jeremy Hill (@JeremyHill33) March 9, 2015
#STRB ✊ LOL
— Gordon | 25™ | A01 (@Melvingordon25) March 9, 2015
“@Melvingordon25: #STRB ✊ LOL” Preach #STRB #WROH
— Ameer Abdullah (@Ameerguapo) March 10, 2015
“@Melvingordon25: #STRB ✊ LOL” #STRB
— Aaron Green (@AaronGreen22) March 10, 2015
That reaction just solidified that we hit it out the park, and we did things the right way, which is what I was hoping we had done.
The other thing that signified to me that the concept and execution were a home run was when ESPN put it on SportsCenter. That’s when I realized that we really did a good job with this series of videos (and we still have several more to release). We’ve had great success in the past with our documentary content for SJ39.com, but to have the Save the Running Back catch on like it did, on pretty much the first day that we released it, it really made me say, “Job well done.”
I hope that it was received in a positive light, and that people didn’t take it as me becoming old and bitter. There are a few assumptions we had to get around that work against running backs after they turn 30. One is that a back loses his step. The other, which is kind of seen as a consequence of the first, is that he becomes jealous of the younger generation.
Those are two things that I deal with. I’m very self-confident and self-assured in my abilities, what I’ve accomplished so far in my career, and who I am as a person. That’s why I felt comfortable to say these things instead of waiting for someone to speak up. These things needed to be said, and who better to say them than an active player like myself. I didn’t think there was a better fit.
At the same time, I wanted to strike a balance and let people see my sense of humor, too. I had a lot of fun shooting the videos because they have that kind of Saturday Night Live style humor. Off the field, I’m a carefree guy. I have a goofy side and can be silly. The way I play the game and the way I am in my everyday life are two completely different things.
As someone who is working at being an artist and who is very passionate about things that I create, I always get nervous when they debut. But when I started seeing the positive feedback and people enjoying the dry humor, it was encouraging. Then to have people retweeting and spreading the word out to their followers, it’s humbling and it let me know that I hit on something. It was something that I always felt was the right thing to do, but I’m really glad everybody received it the right way as well.
Football today is really different from what I grew up on. Teams still run the ball, but they use a number of people — four or five players — to do one job. The position has been devalued because of it. I understand the concept of needing insurance. Injuries happen. But the strategy a lot of teams have implemented in the name of insurance, in my opinion, has gone overboard.
I’m well aware that people in NFL front offices disagree with my outlook. They point to certain players being rewarded due to their play on the field. But to reap those rewards, players are having to overcome obstacles that weren’t in the way for my childhood idols. If one person was the starting running back, he did everything that was required of the position. Now, we’re becoming so specialized, that very few players are really able to stand out because they don’t ever get the opportunity to separate themselves from the group. They’re all pigeon-holed into limited roles.
For some teams, it makes sense. Take the Philadelphia Eagles. They proved with their moves this offseason that they appreciate the run. They’re not willing to put all their eggs in one basket or commit to one guy, but I think Chip Kelly does a really good job of evaluating his talent, and allowing guys to really excel at what they do best. So I think he identified exactly what his offense needed and went out to get it, not only in DeMarco Murray, but in Ryan Mathews, too.
However, everyone doesn’t need the same insurance policy if they don’t have the same problem. I live on the West Coast. We don’t have tornadoes. So I don’t have tornado insurance.
THE FUTURE OF THE RUNNING BACK
It’s been an interesting offseason at the running back position.
Guys like DeMarco Murray, Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy have been rightfully rewarded. The talent always rises to the top, and the thing about the NFL is there are 32 teams. All you need is one team to fall in love with you. McCoy had that in Buffalo, and they made a trade that works out, I believe, for both teams.
But beyond those top three guys, what I’ve noticed this offseason is that the trend has continued, lowering the value of each individual running back. Players at the position as a whole just are not appreciated like they were in the 1990s or even the early 2000s. Teams are going to continue to make guys fight for one job, but go into training camp with seven or eight backs on the roster. So I don’t think the league has changed its tune. I don’t think they’ve shown us anything different this free agency. If anything, they just reinforced what I’m trying to get out there: the every down back is a dying breed.
Outside of those top tier backs, guys are kind of just taking what’s being offered and not really fighting, voicing their opinion and making an argument for why they believe they are assets to a team. That’s why I really want young players coming up at the running back position in the next generation to realize that we have to stick together. If we don’t stick together, then the league will divide us, and the position will only be more devalued as the years go by.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stand up and talk about it like I have. Most guys don’t feel comfortable in voicing their opinion or taking a stance on things. I understand that, but what I would ask some of the veteran players and top level running backs to do is educate the young guys behind them. When you do that, when we educate one another, we all become stronger.
I take great pride in being a spokesperson for the position because when I grew up, if you weren’t a quarterback, the second most popular spot to play was being running back. I don’t think that’s the same these days. But having been around the game for so long, I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I continue to be very passionate about the sport, and about the decision I made as a seven year-old to become a running-back.
That’s why I talk to younger running backs as much as I can. I tell them to never become specialized in one particular thing, to continue to work on pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield, and continue to play the game with passion. The other side of that is being a professional, and you also have to be very conscious that it’s a business, and sometimes that can rub people the wrong way. But you shouldn’t fight that. Instead, embrace that it is a business. Learn as much as possible about that side of it.
At the same time, I tell them to make sure to maintain that childlike outlook about the game, and approach every day as if you don’t know if this is going to be your last chance.
We’re talking about the future of our position, and if we don’t take care of each other, no one else will. Very few people understand the toll the position takes, and the work required to be successful as a running back year in and year out.
Personally, I don’t have a time limit on deciding where I’ll play next season. I’m mentally prepared for the long haul of really waiting things out, and seeing if there’s a team that truly appreciates me for who I am. At the end of the day, we all have to be true to who we are, and not try to be anyone else.