Thursday, August 26, 2010

This is one time to side with the NFL players

There are two fundamental realities when it comes to understanding the NFL. The first is the league itself – that is, the owners and league headquarters – are driven by money. The second is the players are quite aware of how tenuous their time in the NFL can be.

Those two points are critical to remember when it comes to assessing an 18-game season, which commissioner Roger Goodell advocated Wednesday. That could happen as early as the 2012 season.

There are four preseason games and 16 games now, which is a ridiculous balance. Fans are forced to pay full price for two home preseason games, which mean so little that starters barely play. Coaches don’t need eight weeks of preseason to figure out who their ninth offensive lineman will be. Two preseason games, maximum, is enough.

Turn two of those games into regular-season games, though, and you have more cash for the league.

But 16 games is already a long season, which is why players approach an even longer schedule with caution. The NFL looks like a glitzy chess match when you watch on TV, but when you see the sport up close it’s a display of brutality and force that is both awesome and frightening. Reporters see the toll it takes on players in the locker room later, as players with purple fingers and welts on their arms waddle to the showers.

By December, NFL locker rooms feel like a M*A*S*H unit, and every player is playing in pain. What the reporters don’t see are the players in the whirlpools and ice tubs and the players who take pills and injections to keep going. It’s a harsh world – if you don’t play, you risk getting release.

In the NBA, contracts are guaranteed and players often seem indifferent. But NFL contracts are not guaranteed, and that enforces a ruthless efficiency that demands performance every time. Players know this, and they also know the team doctors work for the team.

If the coach needs you – and in the NFL, he always does – and the doctor says one shot will ease your pain so you can play, you do it. Ask an NFL player about this harsh dynamic, and you’ll get a knowing smile back – and a quote that won’t get them in trouble.

NFL players aren’t the spoiled lot you might think. There’s an Albert Haynesworth here or there, but most of those guys know they would be lucky to play six years and never destroy a knee. They know exactly what an 18-game season means for their bodies, and why the league is pushing it.

If the NFL moves to 18 games, it should give the players major concessions, especially with more players on the active roster. The NFL season is no chess match – it’s a war of attrition that thrills fans and punishes combatants.

NFL players are right to approach this move with caution, and to demand compensation if it happens.

1 comment:

  1. Season ticket holders should not have to pay full price for preseason games - and I'd argue that these games should be free, other than food and maybe parking if they employ workers to handle the lot.
    If that means we have to go to 18 games, I guess that's ok but I'd prefer 16 games... or even fewer.
    Of course, I enjoyed the 1982 strike-shortened season when they had nine regular season games and then an expanded Super Bowl tournament.