It was recently announced that a cavalry flag carried by Custer’s troops at Little Big Horn will be auctioned in October. Also in October, the NFL season will be almost half over, and we will be heading for not only the Super Bowl, but also the increasing likelihood of a lockout for the 2011 NFL season.
Why the Custer reference? Unless the NFLPA screws up pretty egregiously, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility, this dispute will be Roger Goodell’s Little Big Horn.
There are many, many issues which the talking heads are going to dissect daily for the next year or so. Or at least until an agreement is reached. In the main, those issues are the rookie salary scale, the “hold out” system for re-negotiating contracts that drives everyone nuts, and health care for current and former NFL players. However, those aren’t the reason for the potential lockout. They’re just issues up for discussion if and when collective bargaining actually begins.
The real reason for the (potential) lockout is money. The owners want more of it, and the players want them to take better care of current and former athletes in return. The NFL owners say there are several teams losing money on a yearly basis and the players’ high salaries are to blame.
Currently, NFL teams use about 59 percent of their revenue to pay players’ salaries and bonuses. The owners want to cut that number to about 41 percent since they say teams like the Packers simply can’t afford these crazy salaries and bonuses. That’s a cut of over $300,000 per player per year.
These are salaries the teams can dump at any time, by the way, and bonuses they agreed to give to the players. Yet the owners refuse to open their books up to explain exactly how several NFL teams could be losing money at this point when every team receives a shit-ton of money just from television and DirecTV deals, as The Bleacher Report so wonderfully points out.
Essentially, the NFL owners are looking for more money, and aren’t really planning on doing anything with it. They just want to have it. Sure, there’s a recession going on and it’s tougher to find fans who will pay outrageous ticket prices for a product that’s better on TV anyway. And yes, NFL players are paid quite a lot of money, though very little of that is guaranteed. But hey, this league wasn’t built on benevolence and owners willing to pass on making a buck.
But none of this is sexy. None of this is interesting to talk about. Inevitably, any complaint about owners’ greed smacks of class warfare and just general dislike of The Man. So if the NFLPA is going to win this labor dispute, it can’t come out complaining to the media about greed. At least not directly, anyway.
The NFL and its owners are going to lose the public relations battle on this lockout because of health care and the 18-game season.
Chris Henry’s brain was recently analyzed by researchers, and he was found to have chronic traumatic ecephalopathy, a brain disease that is found in football players, professional wrestlers, and other contact-related jobs because its only known cause is repeated blows to the head. Researchers have found CTE in more than 50 former athletes and professional wrestlers, including Chris Benoit, who killed his family, and Justin Strelczyk, who led police on a high-speed chase before crashing his car into a tanker.
In the coming years, there will be more and more evidence proving what we already know to be true: professional football is one of, if not the, most dangerous and damaging sport in the industrialized world. How many former NFL players are out there with severe physical and mental disabilities? Tons, apparently, and the cost of their medical expenses and lack of quality of life in many cases shows a dark side to the NFL.
Sure, the Baltimore Sun story is about players from the days before the NFL/AFL merger, but modern-era players have been in increasing danger with every decade. The NFL is faster and bigger than ever, and most of these players have been playing football since they were eight and nine years old. Imagine the damage that causes to their bodies and brains.
Even youth football is dangerous to a degree I’m not sure many parents I know are comfortable with. I’m sure not. I’m pretty sure my kid’s going to play about 87 sports, but none of them will be football.
Since the public has been well-informed of the dangers of football, there’s no pretending on the part of the NFL that there isn’t a problem here, or that the players don’t deserve some kind of financial protection since much of their contracted money isn’t guaranteed. Albert Haynesworth’s gigantic deal is a prime example. Sure, he signed a $100 million deal, but he was guaranteed only $34 million or so, meaning the Redskins could cut him at any time and only have to pay off a third of his contract’s value, plus the salary cap hit.
These are the least-protected athletes major American sports in terms of career longevity, stability, injury-avoidance, and financial stability.
So when Roger Goodell is out shilling for an 18-game regular season while the NFL’s owners are out asking for an 18 percent reduction in player salaries without opening their books, and threatening to lock the players out if they don’t agree, see it for what it really is: a money grab. A sham. A con. Greed. And possibly collusion.
In the 1994 MLB strike, both the MLBPA and the owners were wildly out of control with their greed and demands (and steroid use, apparently). In the 2010 NFL labor situation, it’s all the owners. If there needs to be a salary cut, so be it, but at least explain why. I think we’d all like to know how the hell an NFL team (other than Detroit and Jacksonville) could lose money these days when they get $94 million each just from the network and satellite deals alone.
In truth, there probably won’t be a lockout and there probably will be a 2011 NFL season. There’s just too much money at stake for the owners, even with their sweetheart deal with the networks and DirecTV. My guess is this pay cut initiative, and maybe even the 18-game season are just posturing before the bargaining actually begins.
However, the NFL is looking more greedy and more like it doesn’t give a shit about its players which, in the end, means they don’t really care about the fans either.
After all, it’s the players we idolize and root for, not the owners. Sure, more good quarterbacks will come along in the future, but Patriots’ fans will always remember their Tom Brady and the great things he did on the field. No one cares if Robert Kraft is satisfied with his take of the league’s profits or if he thinks Brady is making too much money. Or at least no one should care.
If NFL teams really are losing money, then the teams need to be clear about it. No sane person is going to tell a team that it must spend more money than it takes in. But if the teams are going to proceed down this path, then every NFL owner should pray to God, Jesus, Mary, Buddha, Yaweh, Shiva, and Elvis Presley that NFL fans don’t get pissed off and go on a protest spree a la Manchester United fans.
The NFLPA needs to win this public relations battle before anyone comes up to the collective bargaining sessions. It is not the MLBPA, which is a ridiculously strong union. The NFLPA isn’t going to get major concessions like more guaranteed money or a free-agency system that’s more beneficial for the players.
But if the owners and league can be characterized as greedy and uncaring, and the fans stick with the players they love, then at least maybe those players who go out there and sacrifice their bodies and long-term health for our entertainment will at least get a shot at a better quality of life after their days on the field are done, and maybe a career that isn’t quite so at the mercy of a very wealthy white guy.
That is what the NFLPA is fighting for. Hopefully, it wins.