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Jan. 13, 2017 — Missing inaction

What do a pair of London-based soccer players, a superstar basketball player, two college football players, and a NASCAR driver have in common?

All of them have made news the last two weeks for, oddly enough, not competing.

This weekend, Diego Costa of the Chelsea Football Club and Dmitry Payet of West Ham United are sitting out Premier League matches because of not only disagreements with their managers, but reportedly because of some big money being floated by teams in the upcoming transfer window.

The transfer window is a twice-yearly occurrence in which players worldwide can exercise their rights as free agents in order to seek teams willing to purchase or sign new contracts with teams. Very rich teams can also pay transfer fees to buy the services of a single player outright, with the player receiving a percentage of the fee.

Under the current rumors, Costa would be playing for Tianjin Quanjian, which is coached by former Italian international Fabio Cannavaro. Payet would be playing for Chelsea or Marseille.

Now, London wasn’t the only world metropolis where player absenteeism occurred this week. Derrick Rose of the New York Knicks went missing less than an hour before a game with New Orleans last Monday, only to turn up in Chicago visiting his mother. This occurred after he was benched the previous two games.

He was fined a game check (nearly $200,000), but it’s anyone’s guess as to the long-term implications of his not playing. He is one of a number of free agents brought into the Knicks organization for the express purpose of winning a championship, but the team has played below .500 ball and would miss the playoffs if they started this week.

While collegiate football has a rudimentary playoff, there are still more than 40 bowl games. But the Sun Bowl and Citrus Bowl were without a pair of prominent running backs. Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette opted not to play for their college teams in the postseason, citing their NFL draft value.

It’s not a worry without some precedent. Several years ago, Miami back Willis McGahee went down with a severe injury in a bowl game. While he still gained some 8,000 yards in a solid 10-year career, many in the places he played wonder what might have been had he not taken that hit on his knee in 2002.

And last year, there was the situation of Jaylon Smith, a Notre Dame linebacker who tore ligaments in his knee during the Fiesta Bowl last year. He has not played a single down of pro football.

But while football sees injuries on a weekly basis, NASCAR drivers face even more serious injury and even death on a regular basis. And that was one reason why Carl Edwards, a man who was a hair away from winning the NASCAR Chase on more than one occasion, stepped away from his racecar this week. This allows Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez, the defending xFinity Series champion, to take his seat.

Edwards, an affable gent from the midwest, saw a number of his peers step away from the sport over the last couple of years like Jeff Gordon, Nico Rosberg, and Tony Stewart. His career included 28 wins, but also saw some white-knuckle moments, inlcuding one in which he was turned upside down and into the catch fencing at nearly 200 miles an hour.

“I can stand here healthy and that’s a testament — after all the races I’ve done and the stupid stuff I’ve done in a race car, that’s a true testament to NASCAR, to the tracks, to the people who’ve built my racecars, to the competitors and to the drivers who have come before me who haven’t been so fortunate,” Edwards said at a news conference this week.“Having said that though, it’s a risky sport. I’m aware of the risks. I don’t like how it feels to take the hits that we take and I’m a sharp guy and I want to be a sharp guy in 30 years.”

Given the number of NASCAR drivers killed over the last 30 years, it’s a laudable reason, even if the tracks and cars are now designed for driver safety much more than ever before.

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