With ill-advised holdout, Enis takes foolish gamble on future

August 09, 1998|By Melissa Isaacson | Melissa Isaacson,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CHICAGO -- Does he really know what he is risking? That seems to be the key question because Curtis Enis isn't acting like he much cares.

His behavior is, if nothing else, age appropriate. At 22, there are no what-if's, only why-not's. Life is full of possibilities, particularly when you are the fifth draft pick in the National Football League and an almost-millionaire. But almost is the operative word here.

Will he get hit by a bus tomorrow? Probably not. Might he trip up the stairs and blow out a knee? Stranger things have happened. Will his body be as strong, his skills as sharp, his stock as high next year, or even next week, as they are now? This is what he seems to be forgetting. Or ignoring.

It's tough to read much from a "No comment," but we'll try anyway. We can understand laying low while negotiations become messy, letting your agent handle the tough stuff, staying away from what would surely be an uncomfortable meeting with Bears personnel chief and future boss Mark Hatley. But there was a slight sense of panic in Enis' voice the other day, as if the very danger of expressing his feelings frightened him.

And so we are left with his agent's threats of a season-long holdout and little else. Why assume Enis even wants to be in camp with his teammates? Or that he is determined to be the best player he can be and fully prepared for the season? We can't.

"Curtis wants to play for the Bears," Enis' agent, Greg Feste, said Friday. "But he's willing to stand by what's best. Training camp is six weeks. The contract is six years. It's not like other positions. A running back finds the hole and runs through it. I'm not saying he doesn't need camp, but it won't take him long to catch onto what he needs to do."

Ask Rashaam Salaam about that. As each day passes, we are reminded of Salaam's holdout three years ago, the negative publicity it generated and the general misconceptions that developed. Salaam, as it turned out, was a soft-spoken, humble young man who was sincerely disturbed by his nearly three-week absence from training camp. His teammates eventually accepted him and his public image, well, that's almost always eventually shaped by performance. Which, of course, is the rub.

Salaam says he never recovered from those missed days of camp. And while his rookie year was solid in terms of rushing yards, the fumbling problem developed, haunting his career from then on and hastening his departure from the Bears and possibly from football.

Salaam realizes now how fragile all of this is; how vulnerable a pro athlete can be and how, despite all your greatest efforts and sincerity, you never can get it back again.

The best Enis will be able to do is somehow rebound from the late start probably around mid-season as it stands now and eventually shake off the fan resentment, which would be a lot stronger if anyone actually thought this kid could lift the Bears out of the division cellar.

Already, his rookie year is tarnished at best. We never will know just how much. If he stinks, he might have been respectable. If he's great, he could have been greater. If he stays home, good luck to him because he may never recover.

Meanwhile, the Bears will go on. With Bam Morris or Edgar Bennett or whomever. Maybe they will be 5-11 instead of 6-10. Maybe not. And the world will forget all about Curtis Enis.

All the more power to every modern-day athlete who wants to get his fair-market value from owners who are profiting off of his skills. But whom is Enis hurting now if not himself?

Pub Date: 8/09/98

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