NFL owners risk players’ health for cash

Published 11:32 am Thursday, March 31, 2011

Imagine if your employer told you that you’re going to work 12.5 percent harder, but yet, you’re going to get the same paycheck or a little less.

Just imagine your job, while high-paying and satisfying, is extremely dangerous with the chance for a maiming or brain injury that could morph into Alzheimer’s disease in your old age.

Imagine that your billionaire partners in this enterprise cry poverty, but won’t show you all of their financial statements.

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When all the rhetoric from both sides is cast aside, that’s basically the sum of the NFL’s labor spat that threatens to kill the golden goose of American sports with a lost season.

The players aren’t saints. They have famously ignored the players who built the feather-bedded nest for this golden goose, not kicking back much at all to help many of these retired players still paying the physical and mental price for the game.

It’s millionaires vs. billionaires in this titanic struggle. Unfortunately for the players, the owners hold all of the cards.

They played one when they locked out the players. They’ll play another when the lockout drags on and on like the red-hot days of July and August. They have billions of dollars and — like U.S. Grant surrounding Vicksburg with his huge army — they can wait for hunger to take its toll. The players, many of whom are profligate spenders, won’t last a few months without their game checks.

If the players want a deal, they’re going to get fewer concessions than the Confederates did from “Unconditional Surrender” Grant. The boiling point will be in September, when the money saved up by players runs out and bills come due. The pressure to make a deal, any deal, plays heavily into the league’s hands.

So, a deal will likely include an increase from 16 to 18 games. Which is a travesty since football is a sport of violent collisions between men bigger, stronger and more explosive than ever before that inflict possibly life-changing injuries upon each other.

Increasing those collisions in two extra games that count are not a recipe to make careers last longer. Unless you’re a star, the formerly average four-year career might dwindle to two or three seasons.

But it’ll help the owners get more TV money. More ticket money. More parking revenue. More money from those abysmal “personal seat licenses,” which entitle someone to the mere privilege of buying a ticket. Even if they have to hurt their partners, without which this grand enterprise would cease to exist, in the process.

Don’t misunderstand, there is nothing wrong with making money. Those folks with the wallets deeper than the Marianas Trench create jobs with simple purchases that many social critics decry as extreme. How does that luxury yacht or private jet get built? By well-paid middle-class craftsmen whose jobs depend on the spending habits of the plutocrats.

But when the owners are prepared to force a deal on their partners that makes them put more on the line so the owners can have more on their bottom lines, that sounds crooked by any stretch of the imagination.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at