*I wrote this article a few months ago, but find it has renewed relevancy due to the explosion of this debate*
Place yourself on the fifty-yard line at Gillette Stadium (or your respective native arena), standing on the Flying Elvis, one foot poised on the star and the other gouging out his glaring, determined eye. It is early December in Foxborough, Christmas season; the year is 2011. It is a Sunday afternoon. Fat snowflakes dance around you in acrobatic patterns, wind whistles through the lighthouse and along the bridge, rattling the flagless yellow uprights. The tranquility is unsettling.
The radio breathes static, Santos and Cappelletti standing by without a damn thing to say. The seats are empty and the lights are off. Just a deep gray sky and the faint lull of traffic rumbling along Route 1. No dependable Faulk or overachieving Welker, no fiery, sophomoric defense suffering down after down of converted slants and out-routes, bending and breaking the frustrated spirit of fans from Providence to Portland, until that shaggy-haired hero unleashes his second-half magic. A starving child sobs inaudibly in the back of the endzone, Rex Ryan grabs another slice of pie and wipes his tears of guilt with the discarded sleeve of Belichick’s sweatshirt, still fluttering phlegmatically on the sidelines; why not? He’s got nothing left to fight for. There’s a lockout in the NFL this season, and thus, there is no season.
Perhaps I am being dramatic. I concede. But for diehard football fans who are not satiated by the dynamics of college ball or the NBA, this is precisely how next winter will feel. But why? It is only a game, entertainment, an excuse to drink beer before noon. It is not something the majority of us actively participate in; we do not know the players, and can rarely afford to pay for parking at the stadium, let alone attend a game. We are the blue-collar suckers, the target audience, fresh meat for those slick, pandering advertisers, and much obliged.
In the midst of another exciting season, where an abnormally large proportion of fans still retain some realistic hope that their team will emerge as playoff contenders, if not Superbowl Champions, it is easy to overlook the fact that those Champions may be unable to defend that title next season.
It is practically impossible, not to mention a tremendous waste of time, for the average football fan to discern the innumerable factors surrounding the dispute between the NFL Players Association and the team owners. According to CBSSports.com, and several other sources, it has something to do with a disagreement regarding the percentage of overall revenue that the NFLPA believes should go to players (sixty percent, reportedly). The owners argue that they cannot sustain a profit and maintain such a proportion. Bottom line: unless an agreement is reached, one that satisfies the greed of both parties, the players will not play and the owners won’t pay.
The NFL, and most other major American sports leagues (perhaps excluding the MLB), is a player (and coach), not an owner, driven league. All players deserve to be paid well, and they deserve to be taken care of when they retire. They play a dangerous game that may very well result in a lifetime of medical complications, if not a premature, painful death. As the premier sports league in the U.S., NFL players play with the ultimate goal of achieving athletic glory and entertaining the millions who watch them every week, while competing for an unjustifiably inflated income. And paid they are! The minimum salary for an NFL player, as of 2009, is $310,000. JaMarcus Russell, the immense failure drafted first overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2007, signed a contract that guaranteed him over $30 million dollars without even stepping on the practice field. He is currently unemployed. The median income for the average American is $30,000 per year. The average American would have to work over ONE THOUSAND years to earn what Russell earned in his short, pathetic, codeine-laced career in the NFL.
This is not an advertisement for socialism. This is capitalist America, and all of the excesses that rain upon the athletes, the movie stars, the politicians, the businessmen and the intellectuals, are gifts from us, We the People, in our endless pursuit of entertainment. Should we feel angst toward these athletes and owners, who are fighting over our money? I cannot say. Individually, our opinions are as good as futile. As football fans, we are the cause of our own envy, if it is envy we flaunt. We are, essentially, through ticket sales, hot dogs, beer, and advertisements, paying these players to entertain us, and it is up to you whether or not these organizations deserve your attention.
If anything, this entire situation should remind us of one thing: the NFL is as much a corporation as any other. It is fueled by profit, and much of the profit comes from us, collectively, the fans. If the 2011 NFL season fails to commence, do not mourn; get angry. We, the peasants of entertainment consumption, have invested in a product and tradition that now threatens to fizzle out, albeit temporarily, like Brett Favre’s career. While fans struggling to find work remain devoted to the game, the men we watch each week continue to conduct themselves like boys, arguing over amounts of money so large that they actually appear trivial. We should have no pity; for us, there is no argument.
Clearly, the depth of the disagreement between owners and players is greater than we can ever pretend to know. But if there is one thing we should ask of those fortunate enough to make not only a decent living, but an extravagant fortune playing a game, it’s that they don’t forget they are making an extravagant fortune by playing a game. If you cannot support your family on $310 thousand dollars a year, then you should not be supporting a family.
All of this is quite simple. Eulogizing the 2011 season, if it is cancelled, is the biggest insult we can bestow upon ourselves, regardless of how much we love the excitement and unpredictable parity of the NFL. Though the thought of a quiet, empty stadium breeds conjectures of bleak and melancholy Sundays, we must preoccupy ourselves with reality. Sleep in with your woman or man, organize your tax write-offs, find a hobby. The NFL, unless you are an owner or a player, is not life. It is a game. Treat it like one.