Lessons of the NFL Lockout

Lessons of the NFL Lockout

Our NFL Expert from The Sports Xchange, Len Pasquarelli, takes us through some of the teaching points of the NFL lockout.

By Len Pasquarelli
The Sports Xchange

If nothing else, the NFL lockout has been a pretty good excuse for what President Obama termed "the opportunity for a teaching moment."

Granted, the past couple months have created a painful classroom for all NFL fans, but there have been a few epiphany-type moments in which things became a bit more clear. Among them:

*The "Partner Fallacy"

We've railed on this several times the last few months, and even been summarily lectured by some owners, but the whole notion that the players are "partners" with the owners is, frankly, bunk. Pick a dictionary, any dictionary, look up the term "partner," and try to pigeonhole the players into any of the definitions you find. The old rallying cry from the now decertified players association that was so prevalent during the two work stoppages of the '80s -- "We are the game" -- still resonates. But the players share in none of the economic risk or liability of ownership stewards, only the windfall, and that is hardly a partnership. Yeah, teams don't always honor contracts, and players are cut loose when they are no longer serviceable. But if an owner loses money, and he'd essentially have to be the world's worst businessman to do so in the world's most preeminent professional sport, he doesn't go to his high-priced quarterback and say: "Look, the profit-loss ledger reveals that we had a pretty tough year last season, especially in the fourth quarter, so I'm going to need you to kick in a million or so." The players, by definition, are employees. Enough of this whole partnership baloney, perpetuated in large part by the owners. Employees aren't necessarily "modern day slaves," as Adrian Peterson noted, just employees. And there remains a certain dignity about hard work.

*Career-span

For years, the public and the media have been buying into the contention that the average career span in the NFL is 3.2-3.5 seasons. Tell a fib enough times, and get people to believe it, and it morphs into the truth. No denying the shelf-life of an NFL player is roughly that of an apple. But bite into the real numbers and the fact is that the union has long been practicing its own version of voodoo economics. The number includes players that never make a roster. The league's math can be just as sketchy, proof positive that you can typically make statistics do whatever you want them to do, but seems a lot closer to reality. As part of its counter-propaganda program, the NFL recently posited that a player who makes a roster lasts an average of 6.0 seasons in the league. Yep, comparatively speaking that's a lot shorter than the career of, say, an insurance salesman or claims adjuster, not to demean in any way those professions. But players make a ton more money, too, and they usually have 30 or 40 years of real-life earning potential after their careers. By the way, the NFL figures contend that a player who accrues three seasons in the league has an average career of 7.1 years. Even if the NFL's numbers are even voodoo-ier than those produced by the player's trade association, they appear to be a lot less skewed.

*Tweety-birds

My younger brother lives in Pittsburgh and works for the FBI, so he has a couple more reasons than most to pay attention to the 140-character assessments of misguided Steelers' tailback Rashard Mendenhall. He kiddingly suggested Sunday evening that the NFL enact a no-social media component to any CBA negotiations. Won't happen, since players are Americans (at least most of them) and possess the same inalienable rights as the rest of us, among them the right to free speech. But the silliness that has ensued because of Twitter and Facebook has to be embarrassing to some teams. If nothing else, the indiscretion of a few players has fueled the notion that the student component of the student-athlete model borders on heresy. It's one thing to be outspoken, another altogether to be ignorant or just plain stupid.

*The NFL is life

Last time I checked, no one died over the past two weekends because there were no rookie orientation sessions for draft choices or free agents. Feel free to phone the local hospital or funeral home and see if anyone perished the last two months because of football separation anxiety. Are there a lot of frayed nerves? Hey, this is a guy who has to search four times a week for subject material, without delving into the politics of the game, because people simply don't want to read about it. As for the observers to suggest that owners and players will have failed the country is there is no football on Sept. 11, well, c'mon, get real. Spend the day quietly, in church or even at home recalling the carnage of the horrific day, instead of in a stadium screaming for some middle linebacker to knock a ballcarrier's cleats off.

*Idle hands are ...

OK, you know the rest. Players hate minicamps and OTAs, but the arrest rate during the lockout suggests no one needs them more. A player minus the structure that an offseason program inherently brings is often, we've seen, a player with too much time on his hands.

Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.


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