Any Chance For a Football-free Year?

Dear Sports Fan,

Can you please explain the NFL Lockout? I’m seriously hoping for a year with no football, and I’d like to better understand how this may occur.

Andrew


 

Dear Andrew,

Last part first — I can imagine several reasons you want a year with no football, but I’m afraid to say the lockout is not the answer.

Think about what happened when the screenwriters went on strike.  Did TV stop? Far from it – instead, producers dialed up three times as many episodes of the Real Housewives of Golddigger County, and everyone without Netflix STILL thanked them for the privilege. Even for the most talented people on TV, it was far from an inspiration: Conan grew a beard, the Colbert Report pronounced the t’s in its title and Jay Leno…well, the writer’s strike had no noticeable impact on the quality of Jay Leno’s show.

Still – much like the writer’s strike, if the lockout isn’t resolved, there’ll be two outcomes, neither of which will improve your quality of life:

  1. Replacement players – the fans in your life are still obsessed with football, but have even MORE to complain about because the quality of play plummets .
  2. No one plays (professional) football – the fans in your life spend week after week bemoaning the lack of pro football. They won’t get over it. They won’t turn to other pursuits. They’ll watch twice as much college football (Yeah – that doesn’t go away) but, like any junkie, they’ll soon find that twice of the stepped-on product won’t feel half as good as the real thing. This is a void in their life that can’t and won’t be filled.

First part last — the lockout is a lot like any dispute between labor and management, except these individual laborers are more famous and admired than their managers. You can disregard the noise and focus on a few key things.

First, management wants what management always wants: the biggest possible piece of the revenue pie. Whether it’s revenue from the rights they sell allowing NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN to broadcast the games, the tickets they sell to those games,  or the $14 stomach-lining-incinerating hot dog that you buy at the game, they want as much as they can get. They’re businessmen, and it’s silly to think they want anything else. Some of them talk about how small their profit margin is, and how expensive it is to build a stadium (even with you, the taxpayer, picking up half the tab), especially in smaller media markets (even though they fought tooth and nail to bring a franchise to said market). But mostly they just want more money, and you can’t really blame them, cause that’s what they do.

The players want a bigger slice of that revenue pie too, and you can’t blame them either. But what they also want – and what puts them at an inherent disadvantage in the revenue fight – is some benefits that acknowledge the physical toll the game takes on them. Whether it’s cutting down on mandatory off-season workouts or guaranteeing better pensions and health benefits for retired NFL players, the players have interests outside a simple revenue split, which gives the owners more chips at the bargaining table.

Still, the players are holding their own in court, and as a result, things seem to be moving towards a solution. And, not to try to shame you, but that’s a good thing all around. Not because crime will go up if there’s no football, which is what Ray Lewis, a perennial All-pro linebacker said – though he does have credibility given his personal off-season experience[1] – but because of the collateral damage a sustained lockout would cause. Cause if you make a living selling hot-dogs, beer and jerseys at football games, you probably don’t have a lot of viable alternatives.

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. During the 2000 off-season, Ray Lewis was involved in an altercation involving himself and two of his friends and another group of people in a nightclub. Two of the men from the other group were stabbed to death. Lewis and his friends were less than cooperative with police, though he ultimately agreed to testify against his friends in return for a sentence of probation – his testimony must have been somewhat ineffective, given that they were both acquitted. Lewis eventually reached civil settlements with the families of both victims. Ahem

A Riot in Vancouver? What is Wrong with you People?

Dear Sports Fan,
Why did the Vancouver fans riot? What is wrong with you people?
Paul

Dear Paul,
There’s an answer specific to this situation and a more general answer – the specific answer deserves a few hundred words of its own, and it has to do with the fact that Canada brings nothing to the table other than hockey, and no one feels this more acutely than Canadians themselves – so when something doesn’t go their way on the ice they load up on the LaBatt Blue, and watch out.

The general answer has to do with the nature of live sports. Going to a live sporting event is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have. There are very few times in life you’ll be surrounded by tens of thousands of people all of whom share one common desire (in this case, for your team to win)– and when you think about the other times that happens, you realize how uplifting it can be. Concerts, political rallies – being around that many people who are all riding the same emotional roller-coaster at the same exact time can be an incredibly uplifting[1] and fun experience. The exhilaration is literally contagious, especially if you win – and even if you lose, the feeling of having taken a journey with 20,000 people is not something we experience every day.

But that same sense of exhilaration has a flip-side – once emotions start to turn, the negative feelings can be just as contagious and just as strong. It never infects the whole crowd – that’s why you see hundreds of people rioting after games, even though tens of thousands of people were actually there  – but all it takes is a few belligerent people (either violently angry at the loss, or violently happy at a win –these people are clearly not the picture of mental health, nor are they typical of fans) doing something stupid, a few people watching and getting ideas and no one trying to stop them, and soon enough couches are on fire and police are wondering how many rubber bullets it takes to bring down a rowdy West Virginian who weighs 285 pounds and is approximately 75% alcohol by volume.

Oh yeah. That’s the other thing: it’s safe to say the average blood alcohol level of a post-game rioter is exponentially higher than the level that would kill an ordinary person. They’re the same people who drink a fifth by themselves at home, then go outside and light stuff on fire in their backyard. Here, they just happen to be doing it in the middle of the street.

The bottom line: the pros of going to a live sporting event far outweigh the cons. Riots happen once in a blue moon, and nothing helps you appreciate your sports fan’s seemingly irrational exuberance like getting caught up in the communal euphoria of a live sporting event.[2]

Sincerely,
Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Using the word “uplifting” twice in three lines? who am I, Oprah?
  2. This does not apply to soccer games in Europe. If you are choosing a first live sporting event to attend, don’t start with European soccer – build to it, but don’t start with it. It is the double black diamond of sporting events, complete with moguls, ice, a completely vertical drop and 9-year olds rocketing down the trail around you wrapped in Kevlar jackets, titanium helmets and their own sense of invincibility. If you like taking your life into your own hands – and if you enjoy a smattering of racism (depending on where you go) – by all means, rock out with the hooligans. Otherwise, do yourself a favor and start on the bunny slope: baseball or basketball.

Why the fuss over Lance Armstrong?

Dear Sports Fan,

I thought Lance Armstrong was just the guy who rode a bike married Sheryl Crowe. Why is the U.S. Government investigating him for stuff that happened a decade ago?

Thanks,
Saoirse

— — —

 

Dear Saoirse,

Cycling is very much a niche – read, rich, white and primarily European people – sport.  The only time Americans become interested, as with most international sports, is when an American dominates the field.  Lance Armstrong dominated cycling for years and won the Tour de France something like forty years in a row.

As it turns out, even professional cyclists don’t find it particularly easy to ride a bike 125 miles a day through a mountain range in crippling heat. So they look for every advantage they can find. Stunning fact number one: some of them probably cheat. Stunning fact number two: most of them get away with it, because of stunning fact number three: the powers that be can’t keep up with doping technology.

Now, lots of people in the sport were (are?) doing it – but Lance Armstrong won a lot, got famous and married Sheryl Crowe, so he’s all over the feds’ radar. His urine is probably the most studied liquid in history, and it’s always come back clean.….but now his former teammates are telling 60 Minutes (and, one assumes, the Feds)  that he not only took the illegal drugs, he trafficked them and basically dealt them too.

Sincerely,
Dean Russell Bell