Saturday, April 02, 2011

We should all support the NFL players

Like (I expect) many Americans, I have found it a little bit difficult to generate much concern over the looming possibility of a canceled NFL season. "Billionaires fighting with millionaires" is the most common, derisive view.

But I have two nephews who are working very hard to join that elite group of awesome athletes, and their interest has led me to look more closely at what is going.

I found a very eye-opening article titled NFL Lockout! in The Nation. This article is in the most recent issue, so it is currently only available to subscribers.

Consequently, first, I encourage everyone to subscribe to The Nation. Yes, it is a "left wing" news source. It is also one of the most highly-respected and long-published periodicals in our nation's history (it was started in 1856 with the following mission statement: "The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect, or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration, and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred.").

Second, I provide excerpts of the article below, along with some of my thoughts.

1. NFL players have stated that they will continue to play under the current contract. In other words, they are not calling for a strike. Instead, the NFL owners have threatened to lock out the players and kill the season. If there is no football this next season, it will be due to the owners and not the players.

2. NFL players have asked that NFL owners open their financial books. "The NFL Players Association wanted access to ten years of financial audits so they could see why the most successful sports league on earth was claiming to be financially embattled. They wanted to know why the owners could feel justified in asking for 18 percent cuts in player compensation. They wanted to know why—despite all we now know about the brutal hazards of the sport—the owners could insist on adding two more regular-season games. But the owners refused to open the books."

3. The "billionaires fighting with millionaires" formula is very questionable. NFL players do make lots of money (the minimum starting salary for an NFL player is $325K) - but their career lasts, on average, 3.6 years. And they usually come out of those "careers" with serious and lasting damage to their bodies. As Dave Zirin explains in his article:

'It’s a workforce that draws almost exclusively from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s a workforce that will die some twenty years earlier than the typical American male. As Jaclyn Fujita, wife of NFL player Scott Fujita, wrote, "I don’t know that we were fully aware of the ultimate reality of the National Football League. We learned the hard way that he would work his ass into the ground, playing every defensive down and special teams, and would be the lowest paid man on the roster. That he would experience multiple concussions, but remain on the field. That he would suffer full ligament tears and shouldn’t have been walking, but team doctors would tell him it was a ‘minor sprain’ and should still play. That even though you have given your heart and soul to a team, they can easily replace you with a rookie who has never played in the NFL before."'

And Zirin concludes:

"Players are demanding to see the owners’ financial ledgers, to choose their own doctors and, for the first time in NFL history, to be treated like grown men. It’s remarkable that these twenty-first-century gladiators are praised by the media when they show so-called “manhood” on the field by playing through pain but are derided when they refuse to be treated like children.

"This is happening for one reason and one reason only. The owners want to show the players who’s boss. But it won’t just be the players who get hurt. Every stadium concession worker, every restaurant worker, every last person who, in these dyspeptic times, depends on the stadium to eke out a living will be affected."

Please take the time to read this article in full (subscribe!) or simply go, search for "NFL lockout" and read the freely-available blog posts on this topic, by the Zirin and others. At a minimum, we should understand the real issues between management and players, and not simply be disdainful of the complaints of "millionaires."

Hey and why not dream a little? Perhaps if NFL owners can be compelled to back up their "sky is falling" claims about their finances with accounting transparency, then other corporate "leaders" who have convinced our elected representatives to give them hundreds of billions of dollars could also be forced to at least be accountable enough to prove that they aren't just ripping us off and dooming future generations to poverty.

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