PUNCHING OUT

What worker can’t understand the NFL player who quit at halftime?

Walking away.
Walking away.
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In 1978, country singer Johnny Paycheck recorded “Take this Job and Shove It,” and since then, the song has become the anthem of disgruntled workers everywhere.

Yesterday, Buffalo Bills defensive back Vontae Davis embraced the fed-up-with-this-crap spirit of the song when he announced he was retiring. At halftime. Of a football game in which he was playing.

Davis, a 10-year veteran of pro football, basically said enough was enough, and he was no longer interested in hitting other men for a living. “This isn’t how I pictured retiring from the NFL,” Davis later said in a statement. “But today on the field, reality hit me fast and hard: I shouldn’t be out there anymore.”

Davis’s plight isn’t quite the same as the long-suffering factory worker in Paycheck’s lyrics—he’ll make $5 million this year—but his decision does seem like a rational response to the rigors of professional football. Given its toll, if your heart’s not in it, why bother?

His teammates took a different view. The NFL thrives in part by getting young men to believe in sacrificing their future health for our entertainment, and one way it does that is by inculcating its players with a sense of mutual obligation. “It’s just completely disrespectful to his teammates,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander told ESPN.

Managers tend to agree. Walking off the job is, shall we say, frowned upon by employers and the lawyers they hire. But the impulse to simply up and quit—if only for a fleeting moment—is a near universal one. Who hasn’t been driven to the breaking point by one last unreasonable request, one more inappropriate comment, one final indignity? Who hasn’t dreamed about telling the boss exactly what we think about them? And who among us didn’t secretly cheer for Steven Slater, the patron saint of all frustrated employees, when the then-Jet Blue flight attendant—after a particularly unpleasant altercation with a passenger—used the plane’s PA system to announce he was quitting, grabbed a beer from the beverage cart, and departed the aircraft via the emergency exit’s inflatable slide? (Slater was later charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.)

Most of us, of course, don’t live out our job-quitting fantasies. Smart workers plan ahead, quietly find another job, and triumphantly surprise their manager with two weeks notice. The less fortunate—trapped by circumstance or their own lack of initiative— swallow their rage and humiliation and suffer in misery for years. So hats (and helmets) off to Davis for telling the Buffalo Bills, in essence, they can take this job and shove it.