Rick Shanley: Dating is Like Sports Free Agency


Dating is like sports free agency.

Like athletes, we are players who possess unique talents and characteristics that determine our place in the dating game. There are stars. There are washed-up veterans. There are mediocre contributors who drift from team to team, forever mired in a cycle of short-term contracts that ultimately lead to the socio-romantic equivalent of broken retirement (i.e. cat lady).

Like the small world of sports, we can’t hide from our reputations. We are on stage for all to see. Mutual acquaintances provide scouting reports. Weaknesses are exposed. Skeletons fall out of closets. Like free agency, we court teams and teams court us. We look for potential. We evaluate. Negotiations begin. The media (our social network) interviews us and speculates. If we’re already under contract, trades can happen (though we often find out after the fact). Sometimes we’re placed on waivers. Sometimes we opt not to renew a contract and test the market, instead. Like teams, we make depth charts of prospects. Finally, we settle on one. A contract is offered and signed.

Market Value

Every free agent has strengths and weaknesses that define him or her: attractive, fun, smart, cooks, good job, nice ass, etc. Like a big, puck-moving defenseman, some dating free agents are more desirable than others and generate more interest. For these superstars, it’s not hard to secure a long-term contract (marriage) with the best team (Miss Michigan). Other free agents are not so coveted. Like a corner outfielder with so-so power and a decent arm, these people fill short-term needs (i.e. “want someone to cuddle with”) while the team searches for a better option.

Just like in sports, the older a dating free agent gets, the more his or her physical tools deteriorate. There is something to be said for the smarts and experience of grizzled old vets (low-maintenance, don’t mind if you watch football), but these players also come with baggage (divorce, children, bitterness). As a result, most teams search for young talent with raw physical power (example: 36-24-36, no silicone performance enhancers) whose career hasn’t peaked.


There are four levels of play into which each person fits based on age, talent or a combination of both:

  • Major league
  • Minor league
  • College
  • High school

Note: College teams may scout high school players, but any direct contract talks must take place between the team and the player’s agents (parents). Contract offers made by major and minor league teams to high school players is prohibited and punishable by federal law.


Every free agent has a reputation and resume. Teams do their homework about a prospect in a few ways:

  • Conversations with a previous team (ex-fiancée)
  • Discussions with other players (the person’s circle of friends)
  • First-hand experience (remember that night she got drunk and threw up all over the hostess stand?)

Scouting plays a major role in whether or not contract talks begin.

Contract Talks

Also known as “first dates,” contract talks begin when a team and free agent show mutual interest. Early negotiations usually take place with the player’s agent (BFF) present and, in many cases, the agent acts as a bellwether during the first few weeks of talks. For example:

You: How did she feel it went the other night?

BFF Agent: She enjoyed herself and thinks you’re a great guy, but other teams are in the mix.

You: Where do you think I rank? How serious are the other teams?

BFF Agent: Pretty serious. After all, my client is highly-coveted. She thinks you’re cute, though.

Initial interest is generally expressed to the player’s agent (BFF), who takes the information back to her client. From there, each side states its terms for making a deal through the BFF. Sometimes, negotiations never begin. Other times, teams and free agents meet, but interest is lost and talks break off early.

Note: It is crucial that contract talks—especially in their early stages—remain private so they are not influenced by the media (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc.).

All of this is, of course, pending a physical.

Rick Shanley is a writer in Kalamazoo, Michigan, who has actually been out for dinner with and can verify the existence of Laurie’s husband, Ken Ruettimann. Check out Rick’s web site and blog.

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