The country is currently in the position of watching two unfortunate public squabbles, one in the political arena, and the other in the sporting world. While the fight over raising the ceiling on the debt limit might have more of a real impact on our day to day lives, the childish obstreperousness of Democrats and Republicans is eerily similar to the fight between NFL players and owners, which has been going on for an even longer period of time than the war over how much money the United States can continue to spend. Political debates like the one we’re seeing right now are hard to stomach because the actual opinion of the American public seems to be disregarded completely, while the NFL labor dispute inspires the same kind of disgust for this writer, and I'm assuming most fans, as our interests and opinions are similarly dismissed.

While the fight over the debt ceiling continues to rage, the lifting of the NFL lockout is all but a done deal and football will soon be back in working order. As such, I feel the need to vent about why this whole process has rubbed me the wrong way and why football fans throughout the country should be revolted by the way both NFL owners and players have treated spectators. Despite how much both sides continue to behave as if we actually give a damn about their court cases and litigation and petty arguments, all we really want is for some football to be played after the usually compelling NFL off-season has been ruined by a fight over a breathtaking $9 billion in revenue.

I've talked a few times about how I still think baseball is America's pastime, but that football is now America's game. Baseball might always be the sport with the most soul and the most purity, but football is now the game of choice for most every American sports fan. If we were talking music, and not athletic competition, it would be safe to say that the blues has finally lost out to rock and roll.

It's why though baseball has a near monopoly on the world of sports right now (aside from some soccer played by women--a boring sport made even more boring; perhaps?), the NFL labor battle still dominates the headlines on a daily basis. The NFL lockout has swallowed up its off-season story lines and left the American sports fan in a strange place when it comes to things to talk about and ponder. If you think baseball is a tiresome thing to watch and discuss, try replacing your usual NFL off-season talk at the water cooler or the corner bar with headlines about court cases, mediation, and the petty public squabbling that is the NFL labor dispute.

It’s not necessarily the subject matter, but the participants involved that get my goat at the end of the day. That’s because I know about labor issues and I'm a big union supporter; always have been. I was born in Toledo, Ohio, which is a stone's throw away from Detroit and like the Motor City, its workforce is largely dependent on the automotive industry. That said, I have friends, relatives, friends of relatives, and relatives of relatives up the wazoo that are union guys. They make the parts for and the actual cars that a lot of people in America and other parts of the world drive around in, and I know how important those jobs are to the people and families they support, and how much a strong labor union means to their pocketbooks and livelihoods. You could say I grew up on lofty ideals [sic] like a decent wage, the 40 hour workweek (supplemented by overtime of course), and ample vacation time to spend enjoying the money you work so hard for.

This belief in the importance of unions was galvanized in my teen years by the art and information I surrounded myself with. Through a teenage obsession with Rage Against the Machine, I learned about organizations like UNITE! and was pointed towards books like the Autobiography of Mother Jones and Out of This Furnace, and I would eventually encounter similar texts in college and find more bands, like Fugazi, who carried a similarly burning torch. I learned about how much a good job and the right to organize labor means from this music and literature, and felt the sympathy in my heart for unions and belief in decent working conditions continue to grow. My education was far from over though.

My first job was bagging groceries at the local Kroger, where I was a part of my first and only labor union, but a few years back I got the chance to work for the AFL-CIO's community outreach arm, Working America, where I truly learned what the union experience is all about. Going door to door, canvassing for support, I learned about how real people felt about jobs, the economy, and what it is to be American. I found out that these ideas are intertwined to a staggering degree and that even those who don't support organized labor support the idea of having the right to the best job they qualify for, and the right to have that job provide for them and their families. It only enhanced those feelings from my youth about how much I care about the causes surrounding labor and the right to organize, and only made for added vitriol toward large corporations, such as Wal-Mart, that go to the depths of hell to prevent their workers from unionizing.

It's why though the NFL has a labor union, and I understand the Players Association fighting for what they feel is right, their situation not only doesn't jibe with my union sensibilities, it doesn't interest me whatsoever. I went off for a few paragraphs a few posts back about this very fact, and my ambivalence towards the outcome of the NFL lockout has not wavered in the time since I put those words out for the world wide web to see. Even though I have sympathy for a union fighting for its rights against the company that it works for, the plight of the NFL players is anything but a plight. Instead it is a classic example of a way to alienate fans and treat those that provide the revenue that creates your outlandish paycheck with derision and contempt.

The truth of the matter is that I don't give a damn about labor disputes in professional sports. I have ignored nearly all news about the fight between the players and the owners and the public bickering between Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as much as I possibly can, despite how difficult the sports media makes this ignorance. What I should be enjoying right now are compelling story lines and off-season shake-ups surrounding the game I love. Instead, I have "sources close to whoever" and "some nobody close to the talks" giving me useless information that doesn't make a damn bit of difference to my existence as a football fan.

See, the NFL is a year-round sport, even if it really only lasts around 5 months. After the regular season, we get the playoffs and the Super Bowl. Then, after a brief hiatus, draft speculation and free agency heats up. Next, the draft happens and trades and roster moves are made as free agents find new homes. Before you know it, OTA's have begun, training camp comes along, Hard Knocks kills it on HBO, and the preseason is here. Then you're on the final turn towards opening weekend, and the process starts all over. The NFL is big in America and it is near ubiquitous in the sporting world. It is a very, very powerful game and one of the biggest businesses in the country.

More than that, its a break from the daily grind, not only on Sundays in the fall, but all year round. It takes your mind off the day job or the problems with your reality, big or small. It lets you into a different world where you can think and talk about the game or your favorite team and forget about your troubles and focus on the progression of a rookie wide-receiver, the addition of a big-time free agent, or the shake-ups in coaching staffs that might affect how a team looks come the regular season. The NFL off-season is important to sports fans, and it has been ripped away from them for no apparent reason.

The lockout is winding down, the two sides are soon to come to an agreement, and no part of the 2011 season will be lost to the labor dispute. I've been of the opinion all along that this was going to be the case, but now that an agreement is actually happening I'm only more upset that the off-season was ruined by the league's labor strife. No matter how you slice it, even for a union supporter, the NFL's long labor battle is still millionaires fighting with billionaires about how much money each side gets.

There have been labor struggles in sports that make sense, like Curt Flood leading the way towards the abolition of the reserve clause in baseball and the formation of the MLB Players Association (HBO just did a doc on Flood and his intriguing fight for justice for ball players, which you can read about here). Since then though, strikes and lockouts have been nothing but bad news for sports. Hockey and baseball saw labor battles scar their leagues for years, and the NBA lost a chunk of one of its seasons to the same greedy arguing (and just might be repeating its own history if their newly initiated lockout doesn't end well). Football players have a bit more to fight for considering the damage they can do to their bodies and the shortness of the average career, but their troubles (if you want to call them that) are nothing compared to what the average worker (read: fan) goes through in the world of work or in a country where the unemployment rate is hovering near the double-digit mark.

Football owners have absolutely no right to moan about the billions of dollars in revenue that their teams create through television rights and ticket sales, and players don't have much more to be teary-eyed or angry about either. For one, if you're an NFL player, chances are that you were a scholarship athlete in college. That means that you had a free ride to track down the necessary skills for a job and life after football. And even if you only play for the average number of years an NFL player lasts (3.5) at the median league salary ($700k, though the average is near $2 million), you could probably still retire the day after you can't hack it anymore and live a comfortable life. Not to mention the added opportunities that arise through coaching positions and jobs in the media, where ex-players are usually the most qualified to find careers in both fields.

So when you're anywhere from wealthy to holy-fucking-shit wealthy from playing a game where you chase a leather ball filled with air around all day, don't expect me or any other fan to sympathize with the fact that your boss won't let you come to work. Especially when everyone knows that football is going to be played eventually anyways and that the money involved can be split up any way you want and both sides will continue to get rich. Fans don't care about what you're going through Drew Brees, so don't lead yours and the other team in a show of solidarity before a game on national television. Same goes for you Tom Brady, for while I know that attaching your name to a lawsuit against the owners in a court case is a symbolic gesture, all it symbolizes to me is a guy fucking Giselle Bundchen and throwing a football for a living bitching about how rough he's got it. The owners and players have said repeatedly that they just know the fans are on their respective side, when in reality we're on our own side, the side that wants both of you to shut up and play.

Perhaps players really don't understand that fans don't want to think how much money they make. If you're like me, you have to put pro athlete salaries out of your head entirely in order to truly enjoy sports, just so you don't get sick to your stomach when you compare the average athlete's salary to that of a teacher or industrial worker or landscaper or short-order cook. Maybe they don't get the fact that all of the public arguments and allusions to slavery are truly in poor taste. It's possible that they don't know that with nothing to talk about, ESPN and every other major sports media outlet will cram a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo down our throats about the NFL when the only thing to focus on are labor issues. If they do understand any of this, they need to shut up and play. If they don't understand it, they need to shut up anyways because every last sports fan in America has had just about enough of all this BS.

At the end of the day, the NFL is probably too big of a money making and marketing machine to let the lockout slow them down, and starving their fans all summer will most likely lead to even more interest in the sport once it actually gets moving towards the beginning of the 2011 season. I'm not sure which one of those facts disgusts me more. Fans have had the door shut in their face, and while they've slept out in the cold, the owners and players have been patiently waiting to let them back in to sit by the fire, no doubt unsurprised that we were still curled up by the door.

The lockout has been ugly, and created a bitterness towards the game inside of me that I don't know will ever leave. I hope that the NBA is taking notes right now, because while the NFL has the luxury of being the sporting equivalent of a dead-beat boyfriend that we just have to take back, the Association doesn't have nearly that cache with sports fans. Like a lover with low self-esteem, we'll take the NFL any way we can get it, because we love it so goddamn much. I just hope fans have learned that those who play and profit from the game they love seem to take their adoration for granted to a nauseating degree.

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