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NFL Labor Issue: Everyone’s Right. Everyone’s Wrong.

Let’s face it, nothing in today’s sports world is cut and dry.  The very existence of sports talk radio and blogs like this one is due to the fact that everything today is colored in shades of gray. The NFL labor issue is no different.  I’ll admit, it’s been hard for me to get worked up about a fight between billionaires and millionaires.  Something about the rich and the super rich squabbling over pieces of their nine billion dollar pie just doesn’t sit well with me.  That, coupled with the fact that I’ve never been worried about the NFL missing games has kept my care level low.  However there’s been a bunch of recent activity and I’ve taken notice.  Thursday had been the deadline for the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (C.B.A.) to expire.  However, both sides came together and agreed to an extension.  They now have until Friday to reach a deal, or face decertification of the NFL Player’s Union(NFLPA) and a lockout of the players by the NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell.

A deal may be hard to come by however, with both sides so far apart on the main issues.  These issues include the owners wanting a higher percentage of the nine billion dollars in revenue and the addition of two regular season games.  The NFLPA, headed by DeMaurice Smith, has been steadfast however, refusing to give into the eighteen game schedule without a dramatic increase in the health benefits their members receive in retirement. They’ve also refused to give a higher percentage of revenue to the owners without first being shown the teams’ accounting books.

This is where the gray area comes into play.  I have no problem with the owners wanting a higher percentage of the revenue.  Costs are rising for owners.  Stadiums, the energy needed to run the stadiums, travel, food, equipment, team doctors, practice facilities – these are all expenses coming directly out of the owners pocket, which says nothing of the cost of the players and coaches.  With costs consistently rising, I can completely understand why owners would want more of the revenue money.  We have to remember, not all of these owners are members of the Mara family; who took over their team from their father and whose sole goal is to put a championship team on the field. To most of these owners the NFL is a business and they need to make money.

That said, if the increase in money flowing to the owners is necessary, why not open your books to the union?  Additionally, I agree with the players association that there needs to be significantly better benefits for retired players, particularly when it comes to health.  Look, not every player in the NFL is Peyton Manning.  That guy could contract the Motaba virus – Outbreak (1995) Anyone? No? – AND whatever the heck those kids had in Cabin Fever (2002)  and still be able to pay his health care bills without thinking about it.  Tom Brady?  Not exactly checking his savings account balance if he gets a cold.  But most of the players in the NFL are not Tom Brady or Peyton Manning.  The bulk of the NFL are players that make the league minimum as the 5th string left tackle and have a career that spans less than five years (That’s not to say that I wouldn’t love to make the NFL minimum for five years – a reported $325K in 2010 according to Answers.com).  When these players retire they have to deal with the lingering physical effects of what is the most violent game in the world and with players only getting stronger and faster the risk of long-term injury is growing exponentially – unless you’re a quarterback, then you can pretty much play without pads, which is a story for another day.  These players deserve to be taken care of after their playing days are over.  I mean, come on, nine billion dollars buys an awful lot of tongue depressors.

As for the eighteen game schedule, I don’t really see it mattering.  The NFL is by far the most successful sport in the U.S. today.  Will switching to eighteen games water it down?  Probably not.  Is it fixing a system that is anything but broken?  Undoubtedly.  But if the NFL wants this, they’ll need to give the NFLPA an awful lot of concessions.  A sixteen game schedule is taxing enough on the body.

The bottom line is that everyone needs to give some. Meeting in the middle is the only way to make a deal work because everyone is right in some respects and everyone is wrong in others.  So sit down, put your big boy pants on and get back to what we all learned to do in kindergarten – Share.  After all, is there really a loser in a fight over NINE BILLION DOLLARS?!?! Get a deal done!

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