By Jeff Pearlman
August 07, 2009

In a nation that often seems to lack the principle historically required from its great and just people, it is reassuring to see that, once again, a select few are willing to stand up and fight for what is righteous.

First, on Wednesday, we learned that Paula Abdul, our modern-day John Adams, is walking away from American Idol after the show refused to pay her more than $5 million per season. Then, one day later, Michael Crabtree, the San Francisco 49ers' recent first-round pick and a sure-handed, slow-afoot J.J Stokes impersonator, insisted he is more than willing to skip the entire season and re-enter the draft should San Francisco not meet his demands -- believed to be in the range of $23 million guaranteed.

For those of you who automatically pooh-pooh the so-called greed of folks like Abdul and Crabtree, I say -- Have you no decency? This, my friends, is not greed. Not indulgence. Not covetousness. Not selfishness and not piggishness.

No, this is just plain old stupidity.

For the millions of people who have watched Idol over the past eight years, Abdul has become an unofficial family member: the endearing-yet-mildly-senile/mildly-drunk great aunt. You are no worse off for her presence, yet certainly no better, either. To quote Patrick Swayze, she's like the wind.

In turning down the Idol bucks, Abdul is naively following the ill-pursued paths of legends (in their own minds) like McLean Stevenson, Shelly Long, Anthony Edwards, Suzanne Somers, Star Jones, Geniveve Bujold and many others -- all one-time TV stars who, inspired by finances or disrespect or financial disrespect, left in a huff, bellowing, "I'll show them!" as their names simultaneously faded from the marquees.

Yes, Abdul can dance and smile and critique and competently sip from a straw. But so can Kara DioGuardi -- at half the price. That's something Crabtree, the pride of Texas Tech and, by all accounts, a fine young man, should be pondering, too.

While words like "unparalleled" and "gifted" and "spectacular" are used to describe his skills at plucking a rapidly spiraling wad of pig's hide from midair, those same adjectives have been bestowed upon hundreds upon hundreds of athletes -- many of whom can be found wrapping Big Macs at a drive-thru window near you.

Just nine years ago Matt Harrington, a highly touted high school pitcher out of Palmdale, Calif., was selected seventh overall by the Colorado Rockies. At the advice of his agent, Tommy Tanzer, Harrington rejected the team's $4.9 million offer and re-entered the 2001 draft. Then the 2002 draft. Then the 2003 draft. Then the 2004 draft. To make a long -- and ultimately tragic -- story short, at last check Harrington was earning $11.50 per hour installing tires at a Costco.

He is far from alone. How can anyone forget veteran second baseman Jody Reed turning down a three-year, $8 million offer from the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1993, only to be forced to accept a one-year, $300,000 deal from the Milwaukee Brewers the following season? Or how about Latrell Sprewell, the four-time NBA All-Star who rejected a three-year, $21 million contract with the Timberwolves by uttering, "I have a family to feed." Sprewell never played in the NBA again, and last year his yacht was auctioned off for $856,000 after he defaulted on a $1.5 million mortgage.

Indeed, from Juan Gonzalez to Jamal Anderson to Lance Parrish, the sports landscape is littered with the rotted carcasses of ego-inflated, financially insulted men unwise to Charles de Gaulle's most lasting quotation, "The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men." If Michael Crabtree refuses to sign with San Francisco, he does so at his own peril. Next year's NFL Draft looks to be wide-receiver heavy, what with Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant, USC's Damian Williams and Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles potentially leading a stampede of pass catchers.

Maybe Crabtree will only enhance his status by, oh, using the down time to pump up his physique and cut a tenth of a second or two from his 40 time. More than likely, however, he and Abdul will soon find themselves in eerily similar circumstances: Forgotten, depressed, and chatting up William Katt while wondering whether there's time for a bathroom break between shifts at the Celebrity Superstar Autograph Show inside Banquet Room C at the Idaho Falls Holiday Inn.

Cash only, please.

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