The NFL is supposedly out of control, and the NHL is completely out of commission, with neither showing any imminent signs of improvement. Both of these issues, of course, come down to labor disputes of various kinds, and the reaction has ranged from constantly building outrage at NFL Situation to a quiet resignation that the cancellation of a second NHL season in less than a decade is steadily moving from a likely scenario to a definite outcome.
This is not a post about who is wrong or who is right in either of these situations. It doesn’t matter if Gary Bettman needs to resign as NHL commissioner and Donald Fehr needs to calm his hard negotiating line. This is not a post about whether or not Golden Tate pushed off, or caught Russell Wilson’s hail mary pass, or how many timeouts the 49ers got on Sunday, or how many yards the Lions were penalized, etc., etc. Those things have already been covered by so many flailing armed journalists and bloggers who are ready to show up at the NFL negotiations and hand the real officials a big sack of money, then drive the replacements to Juarez, blindfolded, drop them in a bad neighborhood without passports and tell them to find their way home.
This is a post about what you, the average sports fan, can do about either of these situations.
The sports fan in the big business era of sports has become a vestigial organ. We pay through the nose to attend a game, or subscribe to the overpriced cable package to make sure that we can see the game. We buy jerseys, $42 dollar beers and team-colored Zubaz in support of our local teams, and yet we have increasingly little say in the direction and future of the leagues that we have become so addicted to.
So, when labor disputes inevitably arise between owners and players, or leagues and officials, fans can only watch helplessly as the legal slog towards a conclusion drags on and on and on.
Recent history has taught commissioners, and negotiators, and unions, that there is no impetus to end negotiations quickly. Within three years of the 1994 baseball strike, attendances were once again skyrocketing. The NHL rebounded after its 2005 lockout to be arguably more popular that it had ever been previously. Few people even mention the player lockouts in the NFL and NBA that so recently were front page news. The reason, of course is that the average sports fan’s threshold for outrage is far outweighed by his/her need to watch sporting events. So with that in mind, what heed should owners and players ever pay to complaining fans? If they know that, eventually, they’ll forgive and forget, who cares how angry they are now?
This morning, on Mike and Mike, former NFL Defensive End Hugh Douglas stated that (serious paraphrasing here) “no matter how angry fans are about the officiating crisis, come Thursday, everyone will be glued to the TV, and come Sunday, everyone will be tailgating before heading into an NFL stadium.” Mr. Douglas, as arrogant as he sounds, is spot on. And the NFL owners know this, which is why they announced today that even though they need Ed Hochuli right now more than Cookie Monster needs a double-stuffed Oreo, they won’t be giving the officials one more penny than they already make.
But what if, somehow, Mr. Douglas could be wrong? What if, simultaneously, 30,000,000 NFL fans said, “Screw this, I’ll watch the college game (for all its problems, at least they always play…) on Saturday and go apple-picking on Sunday. And here are my season tickets. I won’t be renewing.”
Sure, that’s a dream, but it may be the only way. The last option for fans to exercise a modicum of control over the games they watch, and sleep and breathe, may be to ignore them, at least in the short term.
Most tickets that will be sold for NFL games this weekend already have been sold, so the financial impact would be minimal, but feel free to stay away from Lambeau this weekend, or Ford Field, or the Georgia Dome. Or any of the other dozen stadiums where NFL football will be “played” this weekend. Feel free to keep the TV off as well, just to see how Roger and his 32 thieves feel about a 0.2 rating for the Sunday night game.
As far as the NHL is concerned, eventually they will decide to play hockey again, but don’t feel like you have to go. A week full of empty arenas should let them know that they can’t keep pulling this crap.
It’s a dream, but it’s a good dream. And it may be the only option we have left. After all, why financially support a team that wants to deny you every opportunity to do just that? If Golden Tate commits egregious offensive pass interference, and steals a touchdown pass in the same fashion that some people win a new Chevy, but no one is watching, then who cares?