In American English, a journeyman or journeywoman is an athlete who is technically competent but unable to excel. The term is used elsewhere (such as in British and Australian contexts) to refer to a professional sportsman who plays for numerous clubs during their career. In Britain, the term is also used derogatorily, along with mercenary, to refer to players who join various affluent clubs purely in search of higher contractual payouts rather than to further their career; usually clubs which they would likely never join otherwise.
Journeymen players are usually distinguished from an elite or "star" player. Quirk and Fort note that the concerns of journeymen players and superstars, with respect to contract and other negotiations, differ: Superstars are concerned with the preservation of their rights to be free agents, whilst journeymen players are concerned with issues such as league minimum salaries and player pensions. Fort observes that this leads to conflicts between journeymen and superstars, such as (Fort's example) the 1995 attempt by a group of superstar players to derail the agreement between the NBA and its players' association. Holt and Mason note that in football, golf, flat racing, snooker, cricket, and other sports there is a clear distinction in earnings between the few rich stars in each sport and the journeyman professionals. They state that snooker has "an élite of perhaps twenty players" and point to a distinction between high earning test cricketers with six figure wages and "the average county professional" (for whom they give Simon Hughes, who earned £50,000 in the whole of his twelve years in county cricket, as an example). Vamplew describes how league cricket in the 1890s provided little attraction for star cricketers but was greatly attractive to journeymen players in county cricket, eventually forcing the counties to raise their conventional maximum wage, offer winter pay to more players, and expand the fixture lists.
O'Leary notes as significant the fact that whilst star football players will be treated with lenience by clubs, for journeyman footballers the taking of recreational drugs usually terminates their careers. (He gives Roger Stanislaus and Craig Whitington as examples.) Clubs will regard it as worthwhile to wait for stars to become available for team selection after suspension or imprisonment, but not for journeymen.
The journeyman can, however, be quite valuable in the team sports context. Because it is almost always economically non-viable for even the richest teams in sports without salary caps to have a roster made up fully of superstar players and because such a scenario would likely not occur even with economic viability because of the lack of attention some players would end up getting, journeymen often make up a large part of a team. This is especially true in the context of baseball, where journeymen often make up large parts of a team's pitching staff and contribute crucially to a team's success. Many journeymen can be highly experienced, and they often play a "utility" role to cover for injuries or tactical changes as required.
The term is also used in this context for boxing journeymen.
In British English, a journeyman is a player who has represented many clubs over his career. Prime examples from association football are: German goalkeeper Lutz Pfannenstiel, who represented 27 clubs, and he is currently the only athlete to have played professionally in all six FIFA Confederations; Trevor Benjamin, who has represented 29 clubs since 1995; Drewe Broughton, who has made 18 transfers in his career; John Burridge, who played for 29 clubs in a career spanning almost 30 years; there is Jefferson Louis who, since the 1990s, has represented 34 clubs and Dominica once; and his cousin Richard Pacquette who boasts 19 clubs and even international honours in 10 seasons. The term is also used in Australian English and New Zealand English in the same context.
The term is also used derogatorily, along with mercenary, to refer to players who join various affluent clubs purely in search of higher contractual payouts, clubs which they would likely never join otherwise.
There is no convention for the number of transfers required for a player to be considered a journeyman or a mercenary and as such is an arbitrary epithet given by those who resent the player's actions. Journeymen's direct opposite, players who play for the same club, or only a few different clubs, throughout their entire careers, are called one-club men.
- Alexandra Powe Allred (2003). Atta Girl!: A Celebration of Women in Sport. Wish Publishing. p. 99. ISBN 1-930546-61-0.
- "Roma captain's loyalty contrasts journeyman Toni". Gazzetta dello Sport. 22 March 2015.
- James P. Quirk and Rodney D. Fort (1999). Hard Ball: the abuse of power in pro team sports. Princeton University Press. p. 70. ISBN 0-691-05817-2.
- Rodney D. Fort (1997). Pay Dirt: The Business of Professional Team Sports. Princeton University Press. xxxiii. ISBN 0-691-01574-0.
- Richard Holt and Tony Mason (2000). Sport in Britain 1945–2000. Blackwell Publishing. p. 88. ISBN 0-631-17154-1.
- Wray Vamplew (1988). Pay Up and Play the Game: Professional Sport in Britain, 1875–1914. Cambridge University Press. p. 122. ISBN 0-521-89230-9.
- John O'Leary (2001). Drugs and Doping in Sport: Socio-legal Perspectives. Routledge Cavendish. p. 84. ISBN 1-85941-662-4.
- Aloia, Andrew (15 Jul 2011). "Crocs sign 148-game journeyman". Townsville Bulletin. Retrieved 23 Dec 2011.
- "Football mercenaries - Sport - The Observer". The Guardian. 9 February 2011. Retrieved 24 July 2017.
- Bairner, Robin (30 January 2017). "Why Dimitri Payet's Marseille transfer does not make him a mercenary". Goal.com. Retrieved 24 July 2017.