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0793 Signing Professional Athletes

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Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 793: Signing Professional Athletes.

This is English as a Second Language Podcast episode 793. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Our website is eslpod.com. If you want to support this podcast, if you want to keep us going into the future become a member, help support us by becoming a Learning Guide member or by purchasing one of our courses on our website.

This episode is a dialogue between Nick and Jamie. It’s going to be about when you have a professional athlete – a professional sports player who joins a team. “To sign them” means to get them to become a member of that team. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Nick: I don’t care what it takes. I want Robinson on my team next year.

Jamie: He’ll be a free agent and he’ll be fielding a lot of offers. I don’t know if we can make him an attractive enough deal.

Nick: We’ll offer him a signing bonus. That should sweeten the deal.

Jamie: I’m afraid that may not be enough. Don’t forget that he was a first-round pick in the draft.

Nick: Then we’ll give him a no-trade clause. With that, he’ll be calling the shots and won’t have to worry about being traded to a team he doesn’t want to be on. He should be happy with that.

Jamie: I don’t know. His agent expects a lot of competing offers. We’ll have to pull out all the stops if we want to land him.

Nick: Then we’ll do it. We won’t be bested by any other team.

Jamie: Like last year.

Nick: Last year? Don’t remind me of last year!

[end of dialogue]

This episode is called “Signing Professional Athletes.” “To sign (someone)” means to get them to become a member of your organization, usually your team. The verb is used in this sense when we talk about professional sports players – professional athletes.

Nick says, “I don’t care what it takes (I don’t care how much money we have to spend). I want Robinson on my team next year.” Jamie says, “He’ll be a free agent and he’ll be fielding a lot of offers.” A “free agent” is when you have a sports player – an athlete who doesn’t have a contract with a team, or his contract is over and now he can sign a contract with whomever he wants; that’s a free agent. “Fielding” comes from the verb “to field” (field), and that means to receive and have to respond to. Usually we use this verb when people are asking questions. The person who answers the questions fields the questions; he or she takes the questions and tries to answer them. But you could also use the verb, as it is in this dialogue, to mean look at, evaluate, accept, or reject offers to come to a certain team or a certain company. When we say a player is “fielding offers,” we mean that many different teams are sending him or her ideas – proposals to get the person to sign with their team. An “offer” is a proposal: “Here’s how much money we will pay you if you play for our team.”

Jamie says, “I don’t know if we can make him an attractive enough deal.” “Attractive” is something that he would like. “Attractive” can also mean beautiful; we say “she’s an attractive woman,” we mean she’s a good-looking or beautiful woman. But you can use the word also as an adjective to describe things that are desirable, that people would want.

Jamie doesn’t know if the team Nick and Jamie for work for or own can make this can make this athlete an attractive enough deal – sufficiently attractive. A “deal” means an agreement basically, a contract. Nick says, “We’ll offer him a signing bonus.” A “bonus” (bonus) is something additional, something extra. Often when you have professional athletes, especially when they are young, they’re just coming out of college or sometimes high school, you want them to play for your team so you’ll pay them a regular salary, but you’ll also give them a bunch of money as a bonus. So, sometimes good professional athletes in baseball, for example, can get maybe a million or two million dollars if they’re really good as a signing bonus. You sign the contract and they immediately give you a million dollars. That’s how they got me to work here at ESL Podcast. I got a huge signing bonus. I think it was 10 dollars, something like that! Anyway, Nick says that they’re going to offer a signing a deal to this athlete. Nick says, “That should sweeten the deal.” “To sweeten the deal” means to make an offer more attractive: “We offer you a million dollars and a brand-new car.” The car sweetens the deal; it makes it even more desirable – if you want a car. I guess it depends on the car, too.

Jamie says, “I’m afraid that may not be enough (she doesn’t think that will be sufficiently attractive). Don’t forget that he was a first-round pick in the draft.” A “draft” (draft), when we talk about sports, is a system that many professional sport organizations use to select new players, high school or college graduates, young players who have not played for anyone else yet. This is their first time as a professional player. There’s a system called the “draft,” basically what happens is you have all these different teams, maybe 25-30-40 teams throughout the whole country; they may be football teams, they may be baseball teams, and all of the young new players have to register for this draft, if you will. Then all the teams get together in a big meeting, and they go around in a circle basically, and they say, “Okay, you get to pick one player,” and then each team gets to pick one player so that not all of the best players will go to a single team. And after everyone gets one pick – one selection, then they start again. The first selection – the first picks is called the “first round,” and then you have second round, third round, fourth round. So for example, the Los Angeles Dodgers will get one first-round pick; every team gets one first-round pick, unless there are certain cases where they don’t, but usually they do. Then, they get a second-round pick, and a third-round pick, and so forth. So that’s the system that’s used so that the good players go to different teams, so the teams are more competitive; they’re more or less equal in terms of their talent. Well, the player that Nick and Jamie are interested was a first-round pick in the draft, meaning he was one of the best players when he first started.

Nick says, “Then we’ll give him a no-trade clause.” A “clause” (clause) is part of a contract; it’s a paragraph or a section or perhaps even just a sentence in a contract – an official agreement. “To trade a player” means to sell the player to another team. So a “no-trade clause” means that the team can’t trade the player, can’t say, “Okay, we’re going to send you to the Boston Red Sox, you’re not going to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers anymore,” which is probably a good thing this year because, you know, the team isn’t that good this year. Anyway, so you trade that player. Well, the player might have a no-trade clause that says, “No, you can’t trade me because I don’t want to go to Boston. It’s too cold there!” So, you can say no. Only the very best players can get a no-trade clause, so they can determine where they go and where they don’t go. Nick says with a no- trade clause this athlete will be calling the shots and won’t have to worry about being traded to a team he doesn’t want to be on. The expression “to call the shots” means to have the power to say what will happen; you’re the person who’s making the decision. “Who’s calling the shots here?” Who is the person in charge? Who is the person who’s making the decisions? Not me, I can tell you that much! Well, Nick says that with this no-trade clause the player will be calling the shots, they will decide where they play. They won’t have to worry about being traded to another team. “Traded” means basically they sell you to another team, or they give you to another team and then they get another player back for you, and that happens all the time in professional sports in the United States.

Nick says the player should be happy with that. Jamie says, “I don’t know. His agent expects a lot of competing offers.” The “agent” is the representative, the person who takes care of the contracts, often a lawyer. Every professional athlete has an agent. Actors and actresses also have agents; they are not smart enough to do things themselves – no, I’m just kidding! They’re smart enough, some of them, but they’re very busy and, of course, you want to have someone who’s an expert in law – in contracts to be taking care of your legal business, and it is, after all, a contract for working. So, athletes have agents, and the agents may get different offers from different teams; we might call those “competing” offers, because more than one team is competing for that player – they both want to get that player. Jamie says, “We’ll have to pull out all the stops if we want to land him.” The expression “to pull out all the stops,” or “pull out all of the stops,” means to do everything possible, to do everything you possibly can. The expression actually comes from music, from playing an organ, where if you want the organ to play louder you would pull out all of the stops. We won’t talk about organs right now, but the expression means to do everything possible. Jamie says they’re going to have to pull out all the stops if we want to land him. “To land,” as a verb, here means to get something that is very valuable and very difficult to get. “Land,” however, has a lot of different meanings; take a look at the Learning Guide for some of those.

Nick says, “Then we’ll do it. We won’t be bested by any other team.” “To be bested (bested) by (someone)” means to be defeated by or to be beaten by someone else. Jamie says, “Like last year.” Nick says, “Last year? Don’t remind me of last year!” We can guess that something bad happened last year. They didn’t get the player that they wanted, they were bested or beaten by another team. Well, Nick says this year that’s not going to happen.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Nick: I don’t care what it takes. I want Robinson on my team next year.

Jamie: He’ll be a free agent and he’ll be fielding a lot of offers. I don’t know if we can make him an attractive enough deal.

Nick: We’ll offer him a signing bonus. That should sweeten the deal.

Jamie: I’m afraid that may not be enough. Don’t forget that he was a first-round pick in the draft.

Nick: Then we’ll give him a no-trade clause. With that, he’ll be calling the shots and won’t have to worry about being traded to a team he doesn’t want to be on. He should be happy with that.

Jamie: I don’t know. His agent expects a lot of competing offers. We’ll have to pull out all the stops if we want to land him.

Nick: Then we’ll do it. We won’t be bested by any other team.

Jamie: Like last year.

Nick: Last year? Don’t remind me of last year!

[end of dialogue]

Our scripts will never be bested by any other podcast. That’s because they’re written by the number one pick for podcast scriptwriters, Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast is written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan, copyright 2012 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
free agent – an athlete who has not signed a contract that restricts or limits which team he or she can join; an athlete who can make his or her own decision about which team to play on

* When he becomes a free agent, a lot of teams are going to want to sign him.

to field – to receive and have to respond to; to consider and act on

* The receptionist has been fielding a lot of calls from reporters today.

offer – a statement of how much someone is willing to pay for something; a bid or proposal

* Wendy made an offer on the house yesterday.

deal – an agreement to buy or sell something at a particular price; an agreement for a transaction or trade

* Let’s make a deal: I’ll give Mariah free piano lessons if she agrees to watch my kids one afternoon each week.

signing bonus – money paid as a bonus to a new employee when he or she begins working at a company, or to an athlete when he or she begins playing on a team

* When Jacob graduated with a master’s degree in computer science, he received a lot of job offers with signing bonuses.

to sweeten the deal – to make an offer more attractive, usually by offering to pay more money or provide some other benefit

* We’re going to have to sweeten the deal if we really want to win that contract.

round – one of many related events, or one of many repeating events, often part of a cycle

* Joss made it through the first round of interviews with the managers, and in the next round of interviews, he’ll meet the CEO.

pick – the person who is selected for a particular position or opportunity, especially when talking about an athlete who has been chosen for a team

* Our first pick for the job accepted a job with another company, so we’ll have to offer the job to our second pick.

draft – the system in which professional sports teams choose new players from colleges

* How many players are participating in the draft this year?

no-trade clause – part of a legal contract that states the athlete will not be given to another team in exchange for something else

* If Miller can’t play for the team in his own state, he doesn’t want to play at all, so he is insisting on a no-trade clause.

to call the shots – to have power and be in charge; to be the decision-maker

* Alicia made some good recommendations, but in the end, her boss is the one who calls the shots.

to trade – to give someone something in exchange for something else; to make a transaction without using money

* Would you consider trading your motorcycle for my power saw?

agent – a person who represents someone else in negotiations, especially when talking about athletes, actors, or models

* Liliana wants to get a new agent, because she hasn’t liked any of the roles that have been offered to her lately.

competing offers – offers (bids) received from more than one person or organization at the same time when only one can be chosen

* How are you going to choose among the competing offers? Are you going to base it on the price alone, or are you considering other factors?

to pull out all the stops – to do everything possible, without putting limits or restrictions on one’s actions

* Jun is pulling out all the stops to ask Yuki to marry him: an expensive diamond ring, a romantic dinner, and even a helicopter ride!

to land – to get or obtain something that is very valuable and difficult to get, usually because it is wanted by many people

* Jenna is working really hard because she wants to land a partnership in a law firm.

to be bested by – to be beaten by; to be defeated by; to lose to

* If you want to compete in the Olympics, you can’t be bested by anyone in tomorrow’s event!

Comprehension Questions
1. What does Jamie mean when she says that Robinson will be “fielding a lot of offers”?
a) He’ll be getting offers to pay in the outfield.
b) He’ll be engaged in a lot of secret negotiations.
c) He’ll be negotiating with several teams.

2. Why do Jamie and Nick want to land Robinson?
a) Because they think he’s down-to-earth.
b) Because he would be a good player on their team.
c) Because they don’t want him to be picked in the draft.

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
pick

The word “pick,” in this podcast, means the person who is selected for a particular position or opportunity, especially when talking about an athlete who has been chosen for a team: “Ulysses is really smart, so he’s always the first pick when we have to work in partners in lab class.” The verb “to pick” means to choose or to select one object from a group of many: “Which color of paint did you pick for the living room?” The verb “to pick” can also mean to harvest or to take fruits or vegetables from a plant: “They spent all afternoon at the farm picking blueberries.” Finally, the phrase “to pick up” means to meet someone at a place and give him or her a ride somewhere else: “I’ll pick you up at 10:30.”

to land

In this podcast, the verb “to land” means to get or obtain something that is very valuable and difficult to get, usually because it is wanted by many people: “How did you land a $120,000 salary your first year out of college?” The phrase “to land (someone) in trouble” means to create problems for someone: “Glenn landed himself in trouble when he drove without a driver’s license.” The phrase “to land on (one’s) feet” means to be in comfortable, pleasant circumstances after one has had a series of problems: “Last year he lost his job and had to move back in with his parents, but now he has a new job offer and it looks like he’ll land on his feet.”

Culture Note
Sports Drafts

A “draft” is a way to decide which athletes should play on which sports teams. A draft tries to make the process fair. Without a draft, the “wealthiest” (richest) team would simply “buy up” (buy all of something, leaving nothing for anyone else to buy) all the best players, and the teams in the “league” (the group of teams that compete against each other) would not be “competitive” (at the same level, able to play games against each other). The draft makes this “scenario” (situation) impossible.

The rules of the draft “vary” (are different) for each sport, but in general the drafts allow teams that “do poorly” (do not win very many games) in the “season” (the period of time when games are played each year) to make earlier draft picks, so that those teams can be more competitive in the next season.

The “NFL” (National Football League) was the first sports league to use a draft, beginning in 1935. Today, the NFL uses a draft with a “reverse-record order,” meaning that the team with the worst performance picks first, and the team that won the “Super Bowl” (the championship game) picks last. The NFL draft is held in April and is “televised” (shown on TV).

The “NBA” (National Basketball Association) and the “NHL” (National Hockey League) use a “draft lottery,” so the first picks are “granted” (given) to teams “randomly” (by chance; without a plan).

“MLB” (Major League Baseball), “MLS” (Major League Soccer), and the “WWE” (World Wrestling Entertainment) also have drafts each year.

Comprehension Answers
1 - c

2 - b