NFL

NFL Lockout Making League Irrelevant and Creating Apathy

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Meh.

In recent news, representatives of the players and the owners met with each other.

Initial reports say it was a productive meeting.  Other reports say the two sides are no closer to an agreement than they were at the start of negotiations. Wait, there’s a new report saying that the meeting was productive, but may not have been. In other news, a running back posted something on Twitter that put fans in an uproar. Also, an NFL player just got arrested. Chances are he plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Some of the NFL players who aren’t in police custody are getting together and playing catch at local facilities to pass the time they’d normally be spending at OTAs.  A couple of aging veteran quarterbacks on the downhill end of their career are wondering where they’ll end up next year. Rookies are excited to join their team, whenever they get a chance to do so.  Chad Ochocinco and Chris Johnson seem to be competing to see who can Tweet the most frequently.

Wake me up if/when the players and owners come to their senses and get serious about ending the lockout. 

I never thought it would be possible, but the NFL’s lockout is making it hard for me to care about football news lately. In fact, I’m not letting my family members read this article because that statement would likely send most of them into cardiac arrest. It’s true though. Before the lockout started, the thought of me losing interest in the daily goings-on of the NFL was as far-fetched as the thought of Charlie Sheen losing interest in cocaine and porn stars.  I’m the first person to admit that my interest in football borders on the unhealthy. At the end of my sophomore year of high school, my father announced we were going to move, and my sisters were concerned about the normal things such as schools, weather and making new friends. Meanwhile, I made a list of our possible moving destinations, which NFL teams were closest to those cities and how often they played against the Titans.  That’s just how my brain works.

The only text messages or phone calls I answer after noon on Saturdays and Sundays are related to football. Watching one game isn’t enough: my Sunday viewing setup this past year consisted of one television, and two laptops streaming games from other markets. During the week, I’d spend most of my time either writing about football or watching video from other games I missed. Despite what I thought was my undying loyalty to what I still consider the best sport in the world, the NFL’s kindergarten-esque squabbling with its players has done the unthinkable. I can actually go a full day without checking ProFootballTalk or ESPN.

So how does a sport lose the affection and attention of somebody who would turn Salma Hayek down if she were wearing a Peyton Manning jersey? It’s a tough task, but the NFL and NFLPA managed to do it by showing a complete and utter lack of appreciation and respect for the fans who are the true lifeblood of the game.  The NFL and NFLPA are bickering like small children over how to split up $9 billion, while figuratively spitting in the faces of the people who gave them that money. Journalists have tried to frame the lockout as an issue of greed, or millionaires vs. billionaires.  In all actuality, the problem boils down to an even simpler issue: arrogance.

Both the players and the owners are drastically overestimating the extent to which fans love the game.  If the maitre d’ at a restaurant keeps telling customers he’ll seat them later, customers will eventually get frustrated and choose to eat at another restaurant   Chances are, many customers will remember the long wait and be more hesitant to eat at that restaurant again and will take their business elsewhere. That is the risk the NFL and NFLPA are running, and it reeks of an overinflated sense of self-importance.  With their constant disagreements and displays of stubbornness, both sides’ actions make it clear they think the fans will come back no longer how long this lockout continues. That’s where they are mistaken.

The lockout’s been going on since March now, with little to no progress being made. In a media landscape where the death of the most wanted terrorist in the world two and a half weeks ago is receiving less attention than what rapper gets invited to the White House for a poetry slam, the lockout is ancient Greek history. More attention has focused on other sports, especially basketball, as the media has tired of rehashing the same lockout stories.  The longer the NFL is irrelevant (which it is until the lockout ends), the more impressive and exciting it is going to have to be to regain the attention it has lost.

If the lockout continues through late July and early August, when training camps would normally be taking place, the task of providing enough excitement to make up for the NFL’s lapse in relevancy will be even more difficult. Teams install a vast majority of their playbooks during OTAs and training camp. If training camps are missed or shortened, a league-wide lack of practice means teams will execute their plays more poorly than they would if they had time during the offseason to install their playbooks. In summation, the longer the lockout lasts, the worse football will be. Despite the logic suggesting that a lockout would reduce the quality of the NFL’s on-field product, neither the owners nor the players seem to be in any hurry to get a deal done any sooner. Yet at the same time, both sides continue to reiterate with a straight face that their top priority is the fans’ enjoyment of the game.

Actions speak louder than words. Words say the players want to play football. Actions tell me that the players are content being led by DeMaurice Smith, a lawyer who never played football and whose top priority is boosting his future political career by making a name for himself as a demagogue who fought the owners tooth and nail. Words tell me the owners care about the fans. Actions tell me the owners care about squeezing every last penny about the players instead of putting the best possible quality of a product on the field in September.

The longer the lockout lasts, the more frustrated fans will get. Only time will tell if fans return in droves the way the NFL and NFLPA are assuming they will. Regardless of whether NFL fans return to watch football whenever the lockout ends, I simply cannot respect the hubris both sides of this labor dispute are displaying by operating in a manner that suggests they assume the fans will stick with the league no matter what.  The NFL and NFLPA’s pigheadedness and disinterest in rapidly making a deal has ruined my enjoyment of the NFL’s offseason this year, something I used to enjoy nearly as much as the season itself. To be honest, I’m not sure how much of that enjoyment and passion will return. That scares me. Although objectivity is important in sports journalism, I have always felt that a strong love for the sport I’m covering is necessary in order to fully understand and appreciate the subjects being covered. If my enjoyment doesn’t return all the way, will I become less effective of an NFL writer? If that’s the case, I don’t think I’d be able to continue writing about the NFL, knowing that I no longer wholeheartedly love what I’m doing. I’d then have to reach way outside of my comfort zone and develop a new love for a different sport.

My top choice would be women’s beach volleyball. I’m not sure how they keep score, but I’m certainly willing to learn.