By Jason Keidel
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As an apocalyptic mood blankets the planet, from chaos in the Middle East to the horror of a tsunami that has drowned Japan, this might present a moment of gratitude for many of us.
If you're free, healthy, wealthy, or simply employed, you may be thankful to be in America or to be an American. Unless, of course, you run the NFL, own an NFL team, or run the NFL Players Association.
With all the brain cells and bar exams devoted to solving this problem, the problem clearly isn't cash but rather cachet, the monolithic need to be "right," to win some abstract legal war that means nothing to those who pay the freight – the fans.
If you don't click on the TV, or pay the appalling PSL (tax), or buy the jersey, sweater, hat, and mug, there is no business.
And this is the quintessential hubris of a monopoly. On a smaller scale you have this problem at home, arranging an appointment with the phone or cable company. They give you a nine-hour window during which you must stay shackled to your home in case they arrive at 9 a.m. or 4 p.m. No explanation is given for this absurdity, or why everyone else on Earth must be on time for work except for them. And you must accept it.
So it is with the NFL. With all this unchallenged power they preen from a pyramid of cash, imbued with a rampant sense of entitlement. Millionaires jousting billionaires is not our idea of good television. The purpose of music, film, and football is to divert us from our daily problems, not to remind us of them. And we must accept it.
Even on our land we languish over an endless recession, achingly high unemployment, and the growing disconnect between those who fly in corporate jets around the world and those of us who live in it. Take a drive down a county road, watch the "For Sale" signs flip by like picket fences. We should have the kind of problems the NFL allegedly has.
Commissioner Roger Goodell's specious assertion that he refuses a salary for the length of the lockout fools no one. He'll just have to survive on the money ($10 million annually) he made before the work stoppage Poor fella.
Each side is imploring us to take sides, to choose between dumb and dumber. They dull our senses with labor lingo, the owners groaning about sharing new "revenue streams," while the union gripes about "transparency."
Something is rather transparent to us: a problem based on splitting $9 billion is not really a problem. According to a recent report from The Associated Press, the league and the union closed the chasm from $1 billion to $185 million – tip money by their standards. Why not just split the difference, call it a day, and get to the damn draft?
For those of us who must choose between dinner and a movie because we can't afford both, you're right, we don't understand why the rich must be richer. As we crouch over our couch, fists plunged between pillows looking for a loose quarter, we don't get why the average NFL salary ($1.8 million) isn't enough, or why we must pay a tax just for the right to buy a seat, or how billionaire owners aren't happy with a league whose value mushrooms every year.
It seems, as a species, no matter how many times our parents and granparents make mistakes, we're bound to repeat them. Even if the NFL can't remember the fall during the fall of '87, just look to MLB or the NHL. Baseball took years to recover from losing the World Series in 1994, and hockey never really recovered from their lockout in 2004. MLB, in its haste to hasten a ratings spike, gave an intentional walk to the juicing behemoths who synthesized the record books under the guise of a renaissance. Roger Maris and Henry Aaron broke records with clean veins in vain, leaving us with a legion of liars (Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds chief among them) as the tainted faces of our pastime.
NFL Owners want 18 games during the regular season. If they were interested in preserving records (they're not) or care about player safety (they don't) then they would know this is a bad idea. 18 games would saturate an already saturated record book. Remember when rushing for 1,000 yards was a big deal? If the owners get their way, a running back need only average 55.5 yards per game to reach that "milestone."
And with all the frenzy over concussions, the last thing the league needs are more unconscious players wheeled off the field. The NFL proudly sponsors some obscure study about brain injuries, which is no more than an embellished PR campaign. They do nothing to help the very players who put the diamonds in the glittering NFL shield decades ago.
What all of them forget is that their product was birthed by the sweat of their forefathers, from Halas to Rooney to Mara to Unitas; from John Mackey to Paul and Jim Brown to Vince Lombardi. 111 million people watched the last Super Bowl – a name bestowed our greatest game by another prescient ancestor, Lamar Hunt – on the backs of crippled men with no pension and no future. John Mackey must beg for a few bucks to get health care. Have you seen Earl Campbell lately? Mike Webster died homeless and helpless, living under a bridge. Dave Duerson committed suicide, presumably because of the aggregate blows to his head after a long NFL career. Tragically, these men are ignored.
And we don't need Antonio Cromartie spouting about the need to get a deal done, or about anything else. He said it's not about the money. Right. Cromartie, more than most, feels the financial pinch as he ponders his growing brood (9 kids at last count), knowing his time in Florida State classrooms qualifies him for little other employment – certainly not the kind that pays NFL dollars.
Each side in this strife straddles a fault line: the mood of the American public, our tolerance for this gibberish. It's their job to confuse us into trusting them, using legal subterfuge to show us exactly how smart they are, and just how dumb we are.
Like drug dealers, they depend on our dependency. We're clearly hooked on pro football, but there could be a limit, a time when we will look elsewhere for a fix. We're not there yet, but just the appearance of this squabble, these legal peacocks flexing their feathers in the name of justice, is a dreadful start to the 2011 season – assuming there will be one.
To those of us who proudly call ourselves football fans, the game of football is a three-hour portal on Sunday afternoons through which we forget our problems, only to find them at the front door on Monday mornings. That trust was built over decades, but the bond can be broken in months.
DeMaurice Smith and Roger Goodell, lead a conga line of bright, charismatic men who don't realize how perilous this staring contest can be. Lost in the drama is the line between need and greed. We see it. Why don't they?
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
And I finally (and officially) joined 2011 (Twitter): @JasonKeidel
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