With the Super Bowl finally upon us and hype as high as ever, the excitement has been dampened by one sobering fact: We may not see one next year.
Yes, the league that is experiencing record-high popularity and revenues is ready to miss a season over a contract dispute. The NFL’s revenues rose to $8 billion in 2009, and the owners are going to throw it all away to squeeze out a bit more. On top of that, they reportedly want players to take a pay cut of nearly 20 percent. If that makes no sense to you, you’re not alone.
It’s unfathomable that the nation’s (arguably) most popular sport is willing to go to a lockout and risk everything it has built up. And for what? So the owners can get an 18-game schedule? The players have been spot-on on this one: Touting player safety and then demanding an 18-game schedule is just hypocrisy. The end of the NFL season is already regularly filled with a rash of injuries to key players. Adding two more games will, unquestionably, increase the risk for and number of injuries to players. Think Maurkice Pouncey of the Steelers, Brad Smith for the Jets and the infamous Jay Cutler injury.
And that’s not even to mention the level of fatigue the players are experiencing at this point. Yes, players will always get up for the playoffs, but extending the end of the regular season will increase the number of lackluster games at the end of the year.
On top of that, there’s the debate on post-retirement health care for players. It seems like a fairly simple exchange for owners: get your 18-game season, pay the players who suffer more injuries as a result. The average lifespan of an NFL player is already down to the low to mid 50s. Think about that for a minute: Experiencing years of brutal punishment to your body to pay owners who make money off their teams until they’re 90, all while you don’t know if your family will be taken care of when all those hits finally pay their toll at middle age. Abandoning players after they retire in a sport like the NFL is selfishness at its ugliest.
Maybe it’s a feeling of hubris on the part of NFL management, that the league can go away and experience no repercussions from fans. The NFL already carries about it an air of elitism, touting itself as America’s game with ownership as brash as the players on the field. The problem is, no league is immune to the ill effects of a lockout. Ask Major League Baseball, which suffered a backlash from fans for years until the great home run races revived the league. Or look at the National Hockey League, which is hardly better off now than before it went on a lockout that alienated many members of its fan base.
And what happened to a league for fans? Understandably, professional sports have gone from pastimes to businesses, and I’m willing to accept that. But for the NFL to deprive fans of a sport that people are as emotionally invested in as any other, all for the unnecessary luxury of two extra games and more money, is just an insult to the people who have given the league that money. For them to do all this and ask players to take a pay cut is … well, there are just no words for it. It’s greed that goes beyond anything I’ve seen before, short though my fandom may be. But that’s the monster that the NFL has become. Maybe the realities of a lockout will show the owners that fans aren’t quite as fond of the billionaires as they thought.