As the chaos and strife slowly dies off and the maelstrom of insults and insinuation that characterized the 2011 NFL lockout peters out into handshakes and signatures, agreements and clean slates, football fans have a unique opportunity now to take a deep breath and look back on it all. Between today and Friday, we have the smallest of windows to try and process all that’s happened in the past four months, to get a grip on this whole sordid mess and attempt to figure out just what it all meant.
Few, I think, would doubt that the central motive for the whole thing was greed. Take away all the side issues – the rookie wage scale and the anti-trust suit and the benefits for veterans etc. etc. – and all you’re left with is a group of millionaires suing a group of billionaires. Yes, it is and always has been an overly simplistic explanation. Yes, it’s cynical. But in the end, after all the noise and posturing and legal terminology, after all the trials and press conferences and leaked reports and confidential sources, it’s turned out to be the truth.
In March of 2011, a conglomerate of 32 super-moguls who as a unit literally make more money than the entire nation of Iceland decided to void a signed contract with their employees and shut down one of the biggest businesses in the United States because they thought they were being screwed out of more money. Those employees, who enjoy a minimum yearly salary of more than $300,000 in addition to bonuses, endorsement deals and speaking engagements that potentially rake in thousands and thousands more, then decided to sue their employers for violating anti-trust laws.
A bit of perspective here, really quick. Anti-trust laws were not, in fact, created to keep people like Robert Kraft from underpaying people like Logan Mankins. They were created in the late 1800s, to keep competing railroad companies from forming nationwide monopolies, fixing prices, and paying immigrant rail-workers pennies a day to risk their lives blowing up mountains and hanging by a rope over mile-deep ravines. Laws like the Sherman Antitrust Act laid the foundation for the 20th century workers unions that fought for and eventually won us weekends, forty-hour work weeks, paid vacations, and medical benefits. For American workers and consumers, anti-trust laws were literally life changing events. They enabled ordinary laborers to provide for their families after decades of poverty; lower-class workers could finally afford the oil they needed to heat their homes.
Needless to say, Senator Sherman probably didn’t envision a long-haired quarterback with a $72 million contract in his back pocket using that law to sue the only employer in the world that would ever be willing to pay him that much money. But for the past 16 weeks, that’s where we’ve been. A shameless and ridiculously expensive mud-fight between people who have so much money they can actually afford to use the federal court system to settle a relatively minor labor dispute.
And regardless of whose side you took or how you may have viewed the lockout as it was going on, that’s how it’s gonna go down in the history books. At the very height of the league’s popularity, the two highest paid players in the history of the NFL became the main litigants in an anti-trust suit against the league, while each and every franchise owner chose to lock the doors of their billion dollar facilities, suspend their entire roster, and then vowed to completely shut down the business if they didn’t get their extra few crumbs of a $9 billion pie.
There’s no way around the greed. There’s no rationalization or justification that can explain away the sad, obvious truth: These people couldn’t care less about the fans.
We were an afterthought, pure and simple, and if you look at this thing the right way you could even say “afterthought” is being too generous. We were a no-thought. Regardless of what the owners may have said in public, not one of them actually believed for even a second that the NFL’s record fanbase would somehow turn away from the sport in the event of a lost season. They knew we’d be back in 2012, no matter what. If cancelling football this year might actually have benefited one side or the other in any significant way, it would have been done in a heartbeat. There’s just no way around that.
This new CBA that we’re all breathlessly awaiting had nothing to do with us at all. It’s the result of a team of accountants getting together and crunching all the numbers, then informing the owners that losing a season would actually cost them more money in the long run than losing a few percentage points on a 10-year CBA. That’s how it ended, and if history tells the truth that’s what our kids will read on Wikipedia when they research the 2011 lockout 20 years from now. Money, money, money. More money, more money, more money.
And, just in case we didn’t get the point already, players like Logan Mankins and Vincent Jackson are doing their best to reinforce it just one more time, before it’s all over. According to multiple reports, the Patriots guard and Chargers wideout are currently demanding either $10 million or unrestricted free agent status from their teams in exchange for dropping the anti-trust suit. The new CBA, of course, cannot be signed until the NFLPA recertifies itself, and the union can’t recertify until all the pending player lawsuits have been settled. In essence, Mankins and Jackson could completely derail the entire deal by simply refusing to drop the lawsuit.
But that couldn’t happen. No one could possibly be so greedy that they would be willing to put thousands of people out of work and rob millions of NFL fans of an entire season, just so they could get a bigger contract with a different team. There’s no way, after everything we’ve been through, after all the work and stress and uncertainty and negotiations, there’s just no way someone would be willing to kill all of it at the very last second just to make a few extra dollars for himself. Right?
Follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Eagles news, notes, and updates. Trust me, it’s going to be a crazy couple of weeks. You’ll be glad you did. Already following us? Then download our free mobile app. Search “Inside the Iggles” in the App Store or the Android Market.