Keidel: NFL Lockout: The Line Between Need & Greed

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.

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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?

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And I finally (and officially) joined 2011 (Twitter): @JasonKeidel

pixy Keidel: NFL Lockout: The Line Between Need & Greed
  • mike

    I am getting sick and tired of both sides with their greed i am serving in the army actiave duty and we might have to got to work with out getting paid but can we strike or get locked out no we have to take it

    • JK

      Thank you for your service, Mike. No doubt this lockout and resultant debates are trivial compared to what you endure.

  • JK

    Ah, Drew. We almost made it a whole day without people like you.

    It’s your right to embrace PSLs, but they are a tax. Baseball has been doing business for 140 years without them, and football had done the same for nearly a century, yet you feel they are essential now because they keep the league from charging the people who don’t use their buildings, which is a non sequitur. What does one have to do with the other? You can build a stadium with your money and still not use PSLs.

    Teams charge a price for a ticket, and we buy said ticket. Now, teams are charging twice for the same product. That’s a tax.

    Your comments are myopic and silly. Calling an opposing point of view “garbage” is the reflex of folks who can’t win with logic. And haters like you love to take 1200 words and distill them into one point of contention. God forbid you address the spirit of the column. No doubt it’s more enjoyable to troll the Internet and snipe from you cubicle.

  • Drew

    “or pay the appalling PSL (tax)”
    Why Do sports writers keep spouting this garbage that PSL’s are appalling? Charging city residents for a building that will be used by less than a quarter of them is appalling. Charging more to the people who use it is responsible.

  • Trish

    We do not have to accept s@#$, just boycott their stupid game until they say “Who’s your daddy”

  • EGO

    Hear, Hear. Great article, points well taken. I have waited two weeks for my new tv hookup so I can scrimp to pay alot to get my NFL Sunday Ticket. I asked the DirectTV service person, who clearly knows nothing about football, what DirectTV was doing to influence the situation. They stand to lose hugely when folks like me drop their entire service for a cheaper alternative because Sunday ticket isn’t necessary since there’s no football to watch. And they aren’t alone. The financial ramifications of this lockout are huge. Does having that much money make one oblivious to the source of the revenue – ultimately, that it comes from us working stiffs? And that billions of folks here in the US and around the globe can’t even find food or water, so why are they complaining, anyway? I really had higher hopes for the NFL. How disappointing – they should be ashamed of themselves!

    • JK

      Thank you, sir. And I could not agree with you more. Yes, they are jaded by their wealth and power. They need a reality check – one that hits them in the wallet.

      • Tommy

        Most of them are ghetto fabulous

  • David Gilkeson

    How about this…. Let’s form an NFL Spectator’s Union. Starting position is that when these idiots do decide to play again that they will do so to an empty stadium. It is time for us to wrangle some concessions out of those who have made there mega-fortunes by reaching unceremoniously into our pockets and pulling every thing they can out. A spectator’s union could demand a reduction in ticket price…. think about it…… Think about the power we really have if we could organized against the extravagance.

    • JK

      Hard to argue against you, David. The two NY teams continuing to ask for PSLs really destroyed any sense of etiquette.

  • Kurt Spitzner

    Whether its football,baseball or basketball its unfortunate but all the owners care about is money and making more of it regardless of who they have to trample in the process of making it.This makes it very hard for a person of normal means to feel anything other than disgust for ownership no matter what they may be going through at any given time.
    Great article!

    • JK

      Thanks, Kurt.

      And it’s not like we can turn to another sport for the proper way to handle a CBA. The NBA doesn’t have a contract after the season. Baseball destroyed itself in the ’90s, and hockey (already on the periphery) collapsed after 2004.

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