Thursday, August 24, 2017

The future is now ... irrelevant

I wouldn't know Eric Winston if he lit me up with a helmet-to-helmet hit. But I do know he's everything fans have come to loathe about professional athletes.

Winston is an offensive lineman for the Bengals and president of the NFL Players Association, and the other day, while predicting a work stoppage four years out, he said something far more disheartening.

He said whatever the players will be fighting for in 2021, it won't be to benefit those who come after them.

"Honestly, I don't care, and I don't think the guys in this locker room care whether [the NFL] is going to be around in 20 years because none of us are going to be playing," Winston told WCPO TV in Cincinnati. "So if these guys [the owners] want to own for a long time, then they can own for a long time. But another work stoppage might kill the golden goose."

The Blob's immediate reaction to that: Fine. Less NFL, more college football. Works for me.

The Blob's upon-further-review reaction: How dumb can all you people be?

Because, listen, the NFL is a $14 billion business, which means there ought to be any number of ways for everyone to get seconds on dessert, metaphorically speaking. But both players and owners -- and the owners have been just as obnoxious in what they've been saying -- don't want seconds. They want the whole dessert to themselves.

And so the mightiest corporate enterprise in American sports seems perfectly willing to blow itself up over money issues that shouldn't be unsolvable given everyone's relative wealth. But that's the problem with wealth. The more you have, the more you want.

Which means it's simple greed that's fueling all the swaggering chatter about a work stoppage in 2021, a work stoppage both sides seem almost eager to see happen. That the product will, as Winston acknowledges, be severely hurt by such a work stoppage seems not to matter to any of them. As Winston made abundantly clear, the future of the game is not their concern. It's a total I Got Mine, Up Yours, Jack festival of craven self-interest.

That's too bad. Because once upon a time that wasn't the case.

Once upon a time securing the game for the next generation actually mattered to NFLPA, or at least the leadership of it was smart enough to say so. Now the leadership is, shall we say, not quite so astute. And that is to the detriment of everyone, because none of them seem to have figured out that caring about the game going forward is the surest way of preserving it in the present.

After all, Eric Winston isn't shouting I Got Mine if those who came before him -- owners and players -- didn't make sure there was a Mine to get. But now?

Now NFL owners abandon long-time markets for quick cash grabs. Now tradition means nothing and a cheap buck means everything. And now the players, seeing that, think it's perfectly OK to be as openly greedy themselves, saying out loud what they'd never have dreamed of saying back in the day: That they don't care about the players to come as long as they make their pile.

Partly that's understandable, because they play a game that uses up human beings at an alarming rate, which means the window for making their pile is a small one. And it's not as if the league particularly cared what the toll was until it was shamed into doing so.

Still. This is not the way you win hearts and minds in a time when the fans already are increasingly critical of the NFL for any number of reasons.

The product is still booming. But the bust may be coming, and sooner than everyone thinks.

Especially if Eric Winston, and those like him, keep talking.

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