And Now For Something Completely Different… A Momentary Departure from The Walrus

Protesting – whether non-violent or otherwise – seems to be all the rage these days. From Cairo to Bahrain, Iraq and Iran, Libya – even in Wisconsin and Ohio – the people are sticking it the man.

Of course, these protests are based on civil and liberal rights, political and religious freedoms, and – in the case of U.S. teachers – a better collective bargaining agreement. But we’re about to see something very similar in the NFL… just, you know, without the violence and tragedy(*).

(*)Though Panther’s owner Jerry Richardson seems game.

The looming labor war/lockout/work stoppage/whatever you want to call it, is getting nasty. There are owners taking shots at star players (see the aforementioned Richardson), talks breaking because the owners didn’t like the Union’s initial proposal, the Union threatening to decertify, the owners calling their bluffs… all the while, the man at the center of it all, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, seems pleased to simply fan the flames, rather help than put out the fire.

Sure, he released an op-ed this week urging both sides to come together and reach an agreement – or, at least, a starting point in the negotiations. But how much of that was truly sincere and how much was a public relations ploy? I’m not saying that Union President DeMaurice Smith is any better – he’s not – but at least he’s being consistent in his mud-slinging politicking. Goodell simply talks out of both sides of his mouth.

His stance on player safety and concussions was marginalized by the push for an 18-game schedule. The player conduct policy – and its precedents for punishment – was turned on its head with his Brett Favre-sexual harassment ruling. He claims he desperately wants a labor deal in place, but everything the league does seems to throw water on that. He is entirely untrustworthy and the past 12 months have made him look like nothing more than a snake oil salesman. I am convinced that Goodell is setting himself up to one day have a gig in politics. Like many high-profile attorneys, a role like commissioner is a major steppingstone into the political world. He even posses the ideal characteristics and attributes to make him the perfect, sleazy politician.

When Goodell took over the role of commissioner, he clearly wanted to put his own stamp on the league and take the NFL to new heights. He has, in terms of television ratings and net revenue. Hell the league and Union are arguing over how to split more than $9 billion. But the NFL’s most important priority should be the fans, and that is just not a part of Goodell’s MO. The impending lockout is ludicrous. The league is printing money, hand over fist and Goodell’s (nor Smith’s) stubbornness should not be a factor in the equation. He is there to represent the owners and bridge the gap between management and players. Why does it always seem like he is driving a stake between the two?

Meanwhile, Jerry Jones builds a billion dollar palace monstrosity – better known as Jerry World – simply for the gratification of hosting a Super Bowl and being the envy of all other owners. Sure, fans feel like they’re sitting in the comfort of their own living rooms, watching the game being played in front of them on the world’s largest TV, but the whole thing reeks of overindulgence, ego and greed. Then of course there’s the whole temporary seating snafu during the Super Bowl, which left Jones with egg all over his face(**) and the league with a black eye. Guess what Jerry… much like your face, your stadium turned out to be a superficial disaster.

(**)As opposed to the usual botox and surgical bandages.

The safety of the fans, spectators and executives that filled those Super Bowl seats didn’t matter to Jones – much like the fans don’t matter to the league now. Jerry Jones’ only concern was the number 103,220 – one more than the current (and still standing) Super Bowl attendance record. That insignificant and meaningless number could only be used to brag to the other 31 NFL owners – presumably while they sit around a gold and diamond-plated conference table, dining on Lobster and extinct Dodo Bird eggs, smoking cigars rolled by Castro himself – and is completely meaningless to fans. And so is the labor battle.

The NFL – as it stands today – is no longer concerned with annual traditions like the Scouting Combine, the Draft, Free Agency or Minicamps… It’s all about legalities, decertification and litigiousness. Lockouts, work stoppages and bitter disputes held in a court of law, not on a playing field. And who’s the big loser in all of this? Me and you. The fans. The customers. The gamblers, the gamers and the fantasy players. The loyal devotees of the greatest sport known to man (sorry Baseball fans).

Sure, the owners or the players may lose out on a few bucks here or there… but what about the average fan making $50,000 a year who shells out a minimum of $1,200 on tickets alone (before you throw in parking, concessions, etc.) – two of which are meaningless pre-season games (at full price)? Where’s our relief? Why does the division of our hard-earned cash and ad-generated television revenue need to be fought over publicly like two fats kids fighting over the last Nestle Crunch bar?

Guess what NFL… you owe us, not the other way around. Figure out how to split the pie (which doesn’t stop growing, by the way) and get on with the 2011 offseason. The longer this drags on, the closer we get to missing actual games, the worse off the fans are.

All across the globe, a blueprint for “justice” is being laid out. The people are speaking and, in time, the powers that be will eventually listen. Even Mubarak. Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith better start listening(***).

(***)Please note that that was tongue-in-cheek and in no way am I encouraging an NFL fan uprising. I’m just saying… it’s becoming an interesting trend.

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