Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The NFL Gets a Smackdown

Chances are you've heard that the NFL owners lost pretty decisively in U.S. District Court here in Minneapolis this week. The upshot of Judge Susan Nelson's decision is that the lockout of players will likely end and that further negotiations will favor the players.

Most football fans really don't care who wins the dispute between the owners and the players. All they care about is football. It's difficult to muster a lot of sympathy for the Jerry Joneses and Zygi Wilfs of the world, who sit atop a magnificent marketing machine that delivers a product people desire. Everyone involved in the enterprise, owners and players alike, is well-compensated for their efforts.

My take is that the players won this round because they had the better case. It may be out there, but I still haven't seen a compelling rationale for what the owners wanted, especially expanding the regular season schedule to 18 games. Everyone agrees that the preseason is too long and the product on the field is exceptionally substandard in those preseason games, but given the physical strength and agility of the players, and given the laws of physics, the players had a pretty good argument about the toll that extra league games would take on their careers.

I remember watching an old clip from NFL Films that featured then-Atlanta Falcons coach Jerry Glanville admonishing one of his players for a dumb play. Glanville said something like, "you know what the NFL stands for, right? It stands for Not For Long." And that is the truth, especially for the players. Football is easily the most unsentimental of the major sports and it's the one that most rigorously enforces performance standards. If you can't play up to standards in the NFL, no matter the reason, you don't see the field. That's one thing that makes the game so compelling, but it also puts enormous pressure on the players to perform at the highly demanding level the NFL requires. The players aren't unreasonable in asking for whatever protection, and whatever compensation, they can get, because the opportunities don't last long. Judge Nelson recognized that in her ruling. Now I hope that the games can begin without further incident.

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