Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The NFL Has Issues. . .

As a football fan, I have been watching stories about the NFL's potential lockout with particular interest.  While I may be wrong about this, I have noticed a fair number of articles about the NFL owners and greed. For instance, the most recent columns of Rick Reilly and Bill Simmons - the only columnists regularly found on ESPN.com's opening page - harshly criticize NFL owners for their greed.  Peter King, who is typically a cheerleader for the NFL has been slightly critical of the owners lately.

Now, sure in every labor strife there are winners and losers, but the last few labor stoppages in sports have consistently been blamed on the players.  The MLB in 1994, the NBA in 1997 or 1998, both ended with the players getting more or less crushed by the owners.  That might be the case here, but I don't think so.  No, instead, I think the owners will take the brunt of criticism if there is a labor stoppage.

Here's why - for the past twenty years or so, NFL fans have become more and more savvy when it comes to player contracts and the life of NFL players.  We all know that a $100 million contract isn't worth $100 million in the NFL (unlike in baseball or basketball), that most players' careers last 3-4 years, and football players suffer horrific injuries.  Indeed, we have all be so educated by the NFL through the video games it sponsors.  More than a few of us have read articles on the lasting effects of concussions in football and are legitimately scared.  And we have all seen the devastating effects of greed by large corporations upon our communities.

All of this conspires against the owners.  Worst of all, any labor stoppage will be the result of a lockout - the owners, not the players, want this stoppage.  The status quo, which the players advocate, already sucks for the players, but the owners want to make it worse by reducing the salaries paid to players and increasing the number of games in a season.  In other words, the owners want more work for less money.  Did I mention that NFL players have significantly shorter lifespans than everyone else, and that they suffer traumatic brain injuries on a regular basis?  Dave Duerson, who played safety for the Bears, was so damaged by years of trauma, that he committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest, as opposed to the head, so that his brain could be studied.  Oh, and its not as if the trauma is limited to the brain - watching football is now practically a lesson in physiology.

No, I think a labor stoppage will not go well for the owners, even if they get every concession possible from the players.  From a public relations perspective, this is a nightmare.  And given that the NFL completely and utterly depends on public relations - the public builds its stadiums, watches its games, buys its merchandise - any nightmare could affect the NFL's bottom line.  The worst case scenario for football is the long slow death of boxing (another sport I love. . .sigh). 

So, what should be done? First, I think the 18 game schedule idea is dumb and needs to be scrapped completely.  The amount of money going to the players should either remain the same or increase, but with an adjustment - there should be a rookie payscale, with every high draft pick getting a 2 or 3 year contract.  Anti-concussion helmets should be mandatory.  And more money should go to player pensions.

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