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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Attention NFL: Go Ahead; Make Our Day*

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
July 24, 2011
as "Autumn of silence?"

The approach to every autumn, for as long as I can remember, brought for me a rising excitement.  The arrival of the cooler breezes meant that football season had arrived.
But this fall may arrive with an uncommon silence.  In stadiums across the country, instead of the roar of the crowds, only the whisper of the wind will be heard.  Owners and players find themselves athwart serious issues that have to be resolved to ensure the healthy future of the game and those who play it.
Owners want an 18-game season.  More games, more tickets, more revenue.  Players want to be compensated for those extra two weeks (and who around here wants to work for free?) and are very concerned at the effect of two additional weeks of violence will have on their bodies.  This is a very real issue.
Earl Campbell was a dominant running back with the Houston oilers.  He was an immensely powerful man with thighs the girth of which would rival a mature oak tree.  His best year was 1980 when he rushed for nearly 2,000 yards.  But his career lasted only 8 years. 
And the last time I saw Earl Campbell, he was in a wheel chair.
NFL careers are short, about 6 years, according to Commissioner Roger Goodell.  A player’s peak earnings will last about half that.  Because of that, the player’s union wants to do away with the salary cap, in order to maximize their earnings.  Owners want the cap because they want to control salaries.  Also, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the cap kept the wealthier teams from dominating year after year, while small-market teams withered away.  This has meant that football is relatively competitive; giving all teams a shot at acquiring talented players. 
Owners refuse to reveal their earnings to the union, thus placing in doubt the issue of revenue sharing. 
The debates and arguments continue with no solution in sight.
Fans are frustrated, even though they acknowledge certain basic facts.
1.       A business exists to maximize profits, even a football team.  A worker in a high-risk profession must have protection against the certainty of a short career and health problems endemic to that risk after retirement.
2.      Fans don’t go to games to see owners.  They go for the players on the field.  Since the biggest attractions are those guys with the numbers on their shirts, they should share reasonably in the profits they generate.  

If the lockout continues, there will be either a short season, or no season at all.  Despite the issues, I have to believe that both parties are looking over their shoulders at the example of Major League Baseball.
The players went on strike in 1994 and were out for almost a year.  When they came back, they found a fan base that had largely lost interest.  Attendance was down, revenues were down and it really wasn’t until that epic home run chase between Messrs. McGuire and Sosa in 1998 that brought the fans back.
But a few pages have turned since then.  People who struggle to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads are losing their patience for millionaires in uniform and billionaires in stadium suites. 
If the NFL and the Players Association can’t reach agreement before it’s too late, I hope they understand that when they return to their stadiums that a lot of us won’t be there to welcome them back.  And it may take years to gain our forgiveness.
A football fan’s team is their passion.  And that’s important in a time when we are facing so many challenges.  Immersing ourselves in our team allows us, for a time anyway; to put aside the hard-scrabble reality we have to endure.  Pro football has won the hearts of fans across the country.  At the moment, it is the most popular of the American pro sports.  But all that can end in an implosion of greed and self-interest.
Whoever wins this one will likely have earned a pyrrhic victory if the timing of that result sours the fans.  However mighty the NFL thinks it is, there’s no way it can survive without us:  The fans.
We have a saying in Missouri.  If a fella is bound and determined to shoot himself in the foot, then don’t get in the way of the bullet. 
If the NFL wants to commit suicide, they shouldn’t look to the fans for an intervention.
You’ve been warned.
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