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Millionaire players battling billionaire owners. Who cares?

The headline in recent Sports Pages says it all: “NFL now faces single, huge lawsuit from concussions”. Why am I not surprised? In a litigious society such as ours, perhaps such a claim was inevitable.

Never the less, one has trouble finding sympathy for the players; and sympathy for the owners was never in the cards anyway. What we have here, is millionaire players battling billionaire owners for the largess of an obscene amount of funds, in a sport that is worth a fraction of the (societal) price for all involved. In the end, I guess, it is appropriate to say: “a plague on both their houses”.

Dealing first with the players’ side of the dispute (more like allegations), the suit alleges that the NFL was “glorifying violence through media”. Really? How disingenuous. Indeed, in recent years, the players themselves put bounties on injuring key opponents. It is an absurd contention that the players never realized they were engaged in a violent sport? They not only knew it…they lived it! And they were not only well rewarded for living it, they were provided with significant aggrandizement and adulation along the way.

The intense goal of each of them was to reach the pinnacle they now disavow. The best athletes were pampered continuously and receive unending praise, not to mention substantial compensation. Most ended up with a free college education unavailable to even the best of our nation’s students.  And at the end of their careers, the adulation continued, with many from small towns getting high schools or athletic fields named after them, and noteriety continuing long after they retired from the sport. It is very difficult to offer pity for them.

Regarding compensation, according to a USA Today survey, the average NFL salary is about $2 million per year – as much as many the average Joe earns in a lifetime of work. With a normal career even as short as 4 years, that average player can amass a nice cache of say $10 million, plus retirement benefits. In fairness, players of earlier times earned much less, but if a player cannot plan, save and arrange at least a comfortable retirement (and often they are only in their 40’s, not 60’s like most of us), then they deserve their fate without any sympathy from the rest of us, having strived to be in a career with known hazards.

Of course, the elite players earn far more, and those player salaries are nothing short of obscene. Top quarterbacks like Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Carson Palmer each have long term contracts that max out at over $100 million, according to Forbes. Compensation of $15+ million/year is not uncommon in the league. And of course, the Minnesota Vikings a few years back paid Brett Favre $14 million to hobble around the field, then raised it to $16 million in mid season in the hope he would be hobbling less. That’s $1 million per game for an over the hill damaged athlete. Sympathy for his bad ankle? Give me a break (not a pun)!

As for the owners, they deserve no pity as well, and they know violence only enhances the interest in the sport; which enhances their pocketbooks as well. Most are already billionaires; they are in the game for notoriety as much as money. Their behavior ranges from despicable (as they hold communities hostage for bigger, newer and more exotic stadiums to enhance their already untold wealth)…to greedy and avaricious as they buy and sell teams at significant capital gains, as is the proven history of the game. Obviously, with the suit in progress, they will display serious “concern” about the players’ injuries; but, don’t count on them to tamp down much on the big hits which attract audiences – perverse as it may be.

The fact is, that the sport has not only become the playground for wealthy owners, rich players, and high salaried NFL executives (Roger Goodell earns over $10 million per year) – but it is now becoming the province of wealthy fans as well.  Again for the average Joe, he and his family are slowly being priced out of seeing any game in person, since taking a family of four to a game might easily cost $500.

At any rate, back to the trial, whatever complaints – and defenses -- emerge on either side, they are but collateral issues to the other much larger ones of money and avarice. Given that, any sympathy for either party certainly escapes me. Of course, no one really enjoys seeing another human hurt or injured, as has clearly happened. So sure, I might shed a tear for the players’ unfortunate injuries…but it would be a crocodile one!

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