It’s official: Walsh Jennings/Ross partnership dissolved

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Kerri Walsh Jennings and April Ross after winning Olympics bronze in Rio in August/FIVB photo

The pro beach volleyball player-contract saga with the AVP took another turn Thursday when three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings publicly announced she will not play on the tour in 2017 and has ended her partnership with 2016 Olympic partner April Ross.

Walsh Jennings, the icon of the sport who won a bronze medal with Ross in Rio de Janeiro last summer, told The Associated Press that, “April and I are finished. We’re not competing together anymore. I have a ton of respect for April. I just have a different vision for the future.”

So, while Ross is playing with Whitney Pavlik in this weekend’s AVP season opener in Huntington Beach, Calif., Walsh Jennings will be in Gulf Shores, Ala., for the NCAA beach tournament as a sport ambassador.

Ross did sign the much-talked-about and maligned AVP contract that locks players into playing exclusively on the AVP tour for four years.

Walsh Jennings, 38, who has said she still wants to make it to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, told the AP the contract is “a death sentence for our sport.”

“We’re being kept in a small little fishbowl,” she said. “I know our sport deserves more. We’ve been told we’re small and we believe it.”

Walsh Jennings, who has not said with whom or in what events she’ll play this season, also expanded on her position in a lengthy post on her Facebook page, where she wrote the following:

As many of you have heard, at this point I have not signed the AVP player agreement and will, therefore, not be competing for the foreseeable future at any AVP events. It has been a challenging period over the last five months as I along with many other players have worked hard to foster a dialogue amongst ourselves and with the AVP to express our concerns with the highly questionable and contestable AVP player agreement. There have been countless meetings, phone calls and conversations amongst the athletes to try to unify around a few changes we felt essential and wanted to see in the contract. In the end, many players of every level were forced to make the decision to sign the agreement as is or lose the opportunity to play at AVP events.

For my part, I do not ever want to settle for less than what I feel is deserved for myself and for my sport. The AVP has a rich legacy that has been built over the past 30 years and yet when I see the way things are going on the tour that I have loaded and competed on since I was 23, I cannot support it.

I have said many, many times over the past weeks and months that if we continue to argue for our own limitations, if we think small and if we don’t believe ourselves worthy of more or better, we will never get more or better. Our amazing sport will never grow with such thinking and as consequence the professional side of the sport will remain what it has been for a large majority of the “professionals” over the past four-plus years, a hobby with a beautiful lifestyle. The thought of resigning a four-year exclusive heavily lopsided and broadly restrictive contract is not something that I could ever entertain. The stakes are too high and our sport is ready to launch. I hold a very high estimation of the place beach volleyball can hold in the marketplace and in the sporting world. I’ve been blessed enough to have experienced this at the highest levels.

I have both experienced and been privy to poor treatment of the athletes and of the sport at the hands of this rendition of the AVP and I, in good conscience, cannot support something in which I do not believe. It is counter to who I am.

The “negotiation” process was confusing to say the last. In order to see the contract, every player (who was willing) was made to sign an NDA—atypical behavior at best, which immediately divided the athletes and greatly hindered our ability to openly discuss the player contract. This was followed by a negative response to every counterproposal that was put forth. A hard line was drawn and the players were forced to choose. For all intents and purposes, there was no real negotiation.

I in no way believe I am above the sport or any of my peers in the game. I do not pretend to think I do everything right or that I know all there is to know about life/business/volleyball. IN fact, I believe I am a constant work in progress and a constant student of life. I know that I am closely connected to every single player no matter the age or gender of the athlete and that my choices to settle or not, to push for higher standards or to compromise/settle for less, to work toward creating more opportunities of the highest quality or to settle for the status quo, greatly affects the current athletes in the entire pipeline as well as the generation(s) to follow. I hold a deep respect for this sport and I feel responsible to help lead the charge and the eventual and inevitable rise of the game.

I understand every player needs to evaluate the situation from a personal basis and make the decision they feel is best for him/her and their respective families. Some feared they would not be able to pay their bills if they sacrificed the immediate income, others may have felt it was not worth the time/energy to rock the boat and some may have felt OK with the agreement altogether. I hold no ill-will toward my fellow players who elected to sign the agreement. I have great respect for everyone in the sport and hope that we will continue to compete against each other over the next four years.

Sometimes the only way to make significant progress is to take a stand, to choose the harder path. My goal is to blaze a trail and build beach volleyball to be as strong as possible on the domestic and global levels. There is a great appetite for our sport and all the indicators are pointing in the right direction. The TV numbers show that. The youth participation continues to grow in the U.S. Inclusion in the NCAA championships at last year’s inaugural event will help to raise competition to a new level for years to come.

I have always felt there is room for more at the professional level in our sport. I want the AVP to succeed, yet more importantly I want our sport to grow in stature and prestige and I want the athletes to be able to make a living. The AVP is happy in the position they are in and have made clear their growth plan and strategy. I wish them well.

What became very clear to me after sitting down with the AVP last fall is that there is a huge void on the top of the AVP tour that is primed and ready to be filled with professionalism, integrity and competition at the very highest level. I want there to be a ton of other major events that allow more people to play, watch and be exposed to the game and the lifestyle around the sport. I am doing everything I can to try to help create these additional opportunities (they are coming!) that will hopefully benefit all players and the sport in the long run. I have no doubt this will be the outcome, yet there is much work to be done.

I am not retiring. Far from it! I am as energized to compete, to grow and to learn every day as I work toward my dream of winning gold in Tokyo in 2020 as I have ever been.

I am so appreciative of the continue support and inspiration that I receive from so may out there. I have always been an internally inspired and driven person, but it must be said that the love and support that I have received throughout my career has made it all so fun, so inspiring and so incredibly meaningful. I am humbled and cannot thank you enough.

There is so much to express and so much behind this decision. I hope this helps to give some clarity behind the decision I have made. Ultimately, this is not about my lawsuit with the AVP nor is it about rule changes or hurt feelings. This is not about me being “right” and the AVP being “wrong.” This is absolutely about my love for the game and my knowing that in order to change the existing reality, a new model must be created and believed in and fought for. I believe there is plenty of room for everyone to succeed here. Despite the heartache and divisiveness of the current situation, I wholeheartedly believe that more and better is coming. I am going to help create it.

 

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