The National Football League is a horrible thing. A beast without soul.
There are all kinds of window dressing that would suggest otherwise. Watch NFL Films and with sunlight just right and motion slowed just enough and the sonorous baritone of the late John Facenda narrating, and the NFL seems like a passion play. An opera flecked with real blood. It’s intoxicating, addictive even.
And then there’s the gambling. And the tail-gating. And the fantasy leagues. The NFL is one-stop shopping for those seeking to drink, bet, bust on friends and be wowed by casual violence. It makes for a great weekend.
For all those reasons it’s hard not to like, or become obsessed with it.
But then you watch the replacement refereeing debacle Monday night in Seattle — just for starters — and you get jarred back to reality.
Football fans are getting played. The NFL is taking everything fans love and squeezing it for profits. Massive profits. Profits they won’t share with anyone unless they have to.
The NFL is so committed to shoring up a bottom line that needs absolutely no shoring up that it is willing to ruin games and imperil players for pennies on the million.
What could the point be, exactly? That NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is about as into sharing the wealth as big fans of indentured servitude? That he believes scab labour is a cause in need of support?
Do you know what the difference is between what the locked out NFL officials are asking in terms of salary in their upcoming collective bargaining agreement and what the league is offering?
How about $16.5 million over five years.
Sportsnet’s Michael Grange speaks to The Fan590’s Bob McKown about replacement referees
The NFL is projected to generate revenues of $60 billion over the same period. I challenge you to figure out what percentage $16.5 million is of $60 billion. I think it’s 0.0275 per cent, but I’m not entirely sure because I couldn’t enter that many zeroes on the calculator on my phone. True.
The amount of money the NFL is locking out its officials over is a dribble of hot pee in the cold ocean of money the league generates thanks to hundreds of young men willing to put their bodies in car accidents a few hundred times a season while we watch.
Monday night was another easy point to make to drive it all home.
A hard-fought game went down to the final seconds and a Hail Mary pass went up and, and, and … chaos.
The Packers M.D. Jennings appears to intercept the ball in the corner of the end zone only to have it wrestled away from him by the Seahawks Golden Tate on the ground. The two replacement officials — typically high school or small college referees who have looked the part trying to make decisions with the entire world watching — meet eyes for a moment and then simultaneously make the opposite call; one signalling touchdown and a win for Seattle the other waving it off and a win for Green Bay.
There is a 10-minute video review which is largely irrelevant because the only aspect of the play that can be reviewed is if the ball hit the ground or not. It didn’t, the play on the field stands, even as fans across the world are seeing replay after replay of Tate shoving Packers defensive back Sam Shields out of the way — an obvious case of offensive pass interference that was overlooked — and of Jennings making the interception.
The Packers lose and the sad joke that is the NFL’s replacement officials descends into farce.
That the keepers of the game — Roger Goodell and the owners — are willing to let that happen tells you everything you need to know.
The NFL is a business, but it’s not just any business. It’s a business that asks for everything and gives nothing. It’s the worst kind of business. It’s about as heartfelt and well meaning as the tobacco industry.
Sure Big Tobacco creates jobs and probably gives to charities and generates wealth for shareholders.
But it’s Big Tobacco. Come on. It markets an addictive product that kills people; and as their market share has declined in parts of the world where selling things that cause cancer is frowned upon they’ve set up shop in places like India and China and Africa and where they have more pressing issues than what their citizens are smoking and gone on profiting from cancer.
The NFL is the Big Tobacco of professional sports. It exists to make a fantastic profit, and anything that gets in the way of that is kindly pushed to the side, morality included.
The NFL’s Big Tobacco moment could be coming. In the same way that an avalanche of class action suits exposed the cigarette industry as the most callous collection of operators this side of the National Rifle Association, the blizzard of legal filings about how the league suppressed or mishandled the concussion issue over the years could change the sport in ways we can’t be sure about yet.
But in case you doubt the possibility the league might have underplayed the significance of the concussion epidemic in their midst (and let’s not get started on what role PED’s really play in the game) I offer you the lengths they’re willing to go to win their labour showdown with their officials.
They might be the lowest cost expenditure the league has, at least relative to their significance to the game. There are only 121 of them. Their average salary is $149,000, which is a hell of a part-time job, but it a pretty decent price to secure the best in the world in a particular industry, particularly given their critical role in a business as spectacularly lucrative as the NFL.
And yet the league is willing to put players at risk and the integrity of the game into question to save $16.5 million against perhaps $60 billion in revenue.
And it has to be the money, right? Because there is no way the league can suggest they stand on principle. They have none.