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Sunday, November 23, 2014

NFL Lockout and NBA Lockout: Labor Pains

Lockout. It’s the “L” word everyone’s talking about. Nope, it has nothing to do with the show, although I tried watching it in hopes of getting some information on the situation and left oddly confused about where the players and owners stand. Next season for both football and basketball could be in jeopardy and, unfortunately, Alex Trebek is not presiding over the dispute. Distribution of wealth and the owners’ desire to implement an 18-game season threaten to disrupt the NFL season, which apparently runs from April to February (or if you are the producer of NFL Live, never ends). Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith in a steel-caged death match. It would probably sell. Throw in a Doritos commercial and enough money would be generated to finance Jerry Jones’ new belt buckle, another Al Davis lawsuit against someone, or one more overpaid underperforming free agent signing for Dan Snyder. The NBA is seeking to reduce player costs by about 700 to 800 million dollars (the amount paid to Raef Lafrentz and Jim McIlvaine once). Contraction has been discussed (talk about labor pains!), but what would the world do without the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Charlotte Bobcats, apparently extinct NBA species for the better part of a decade.

(Cue movie announcer guy) Impasse. Concessions. Decertification. Collective bargaining agreement. These images invoke the excitement of an AFL/CIO meeting. The league and players union meetings will feature just as many suits, but just a smidge more athletic talent. George Meany was never much of a jump shooter anyway. Player salaries have come a long way since helmet-less athletes threw around a watermelon-shaped football made of horsehide earning nothing more than, perhaps, their two front teeth. Long gone are the days when basketball players took turns shooting at a suspended peach basket, earning nothing more than Dr. Naismith’s praise. Baseball teams played for peanuts and Cracker Jack. Nowadays athletes earn so much they could probably buy off Mr. Planter and wear the top hat and monocle themselves. Cracker Jack may sponsor a stadium and makes millions in the process. Sports figures have trumped, well, Donald Trump.

When the clock — oh, who are we kidding — the diamond-encrusted hour hand on the Swiss-made wrist watch strikes midnight on March 4, the NFL’s labor agreement will have officially expired. If no new CBA is in place by then, there will be no spring B-Roll of 3rd string quarterbacks vying for the coveted job of holding a clipboard and getting free admission to NFL games during the fall. If players and owners continue to bicker, the entire offseason, training camp, and preseason could be lost. (This essentially means Brett Favre will indeed play again next season, as long as there is a high school receiver to whom to throw.) The draft will be allowed to continue, however, in lieu of a team hat and congratulatory hand shake from Roger Goodell, the draftee will get up, be handed a picket-sign, and a piece of paper that says “IOU one NFL contract.”

Using words like “collusion” and “supplemental revenue sharing” would make this missive sound like one of those local city hall meetings on public access that are so popular among the sleepless and inebriated. Let’s just say that the owners want the players to shrink their percentage of the revenue. It sounds like a pretty reasonable demand doesn’t it? “We want you guys to play two more meaningful games, absorb an extra 120 minutes worth of collisions, and take less money to do so. Sound good?” It’s no wonder that the NFL was founded in a car dealership.

Collective bargaining. It sounds so innocuous, like you’re walking into a co-op or a kibbutz. At one point in human history, man traded animal skins for sacks of radishes, and apparently societies got along based on intrinsic value. Athletes today are still trading for fur, just now using a lot of cash to do so.

The NBA has seen revenues and salaries skyrocket from the days when the league’s championship games were shown on tape delay like a Jimmy Swaggert holiday special. Poster children like Jermaine O’Neal have become basketball’s version of Wimpy: “I will gladly play for you next Tuesday for $23 million today.” Let’s just think of it as a bad investment, like, say, putting a great deal of your money into a company that manufactures robots which only open stubborn pickle jars. Now, replace the robots with a player that averages five points-per-game and you can see how the league is in… a pickle. The NBA owners are pushing for a salary cap to protect them from being Koncak-ed and Commissioner David Stern (whose Q-Rating needs to be viewed with a very high-powered microscope at the moment) has said some teams may need to be contracted to make ends meet. Where will all those empty seats at Sacramento Kings’ games go? Stern and the NBA owners say they have lost $400 million, which, if true, would make me more profitable than the league (I don’t believe it either).

The players union and the NFL have enjoyed 23 years of marital bliss and the NBA, 12. Of course, like every marriage, there is the usual name calling, monetary gripes, and chair throwing. A looming storm cloud threatens to wipe out the seasons of two of the biggest sports seasons in the US, potentially forcing people to search for some other amusement outside the 46 inches in their living room. Perhaps the impasse will send folks outdoors: “Ah, so the sun isn’t just something that frequently avoids the Finals.” Or, it will encourage others to travel: “Hey, that’s a dolphin. I just thought they always lived at the bottom of the AFC East.” The more likely scenario is that the pro sports-crazed world will root the Michael Vick-led Omaha Nighthawks to the UFL championship next year and watch Kobe Bryant hoist the 2012 Euroleague title for Panathinaikos. Opa!



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