National / Sports / May 4, 2011

Football and Osama

It is not uncommon for generation-defining moments to affect the broad sporting arena. Many remember John Hinckley’s assassination attempt on President Reagan’s life delaying the 1981 NCAA men’s basketball championship, or the O.J. Simpson car chase being presented in split-screen during game five of the 1994 NBA finals. And, of course, there were the dramatic Yankees-Diamondbacks World Series games in New York shortly after 9/11.

So perhaps it should not be surprising that a few particularly inane sportswriters used Osama bin Laden’s death Sunday evening as a jumping off point for making larger, more inane points.

Mike Florio, the founder of NBC Sports acquisition ProFootballTalk, wrote a post Monday morning titled, “Bin Laden’s death could raise stakes in NFL lockout.” Seriously. With neither the appropriate irony nor solemnity, Florio emphasized that the NFL could be in for a public relations nightmare if the lockout prevents football from being played on September 11, 2011. An excerpt:

“With bin Laden still living, the event still would have been incredibly significant, and the league’s failure to play a full slate of games that day—including the Giants and Redskins squaring off in D.C. and the Jets hosting the Cowboys in primetime—would have been yet another P.R. debacle for the NFL. With bin Laden gone, September 11, 2011 will have an even more powerful impact on our country, and the sense of indignity to the American people resulting from a lockout that wipes out the 9/11 games will escalate.”

That Florio believes the NFL lockout could actually “escalate” the indignity of the “American people” is preposterous. That folks might be unable to catch the Giants/Redskins or Jets/Cowboys games is wholly ancillary to what is going to be a national day of observance. (And a day that many Americans—myself included—are anxious to X-out on the calendar.)

As Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs argued in an incredibly satisfying takedown of Florio’s absurd bullsh*t, if any scenario of escalating “indignity” exists for the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it would probably be the games being played. The last thing America needs—if our country is to be referred to in such wholesale terms—it would be an even more artificially dramatic football game wherein the players think of themselves as “warriors,” and the announcers growl about Heart and Sacrifice. (Not to mention the biting and cruel absurdity of an especially “patriotic” game involving the Redskins.)

If there is a “Football is America” turd to be mined from the litter-box, it would be about the dynamics of the ongoing labor battle between the NFL Players’ Union and the leagues’ 21st century robber baron owners. While governors across the country strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights, NFL owners insist that players be compensated at a lower rate, and agree to continue onward with the leagues’ subpar post-career medical policies. These negotiations show that workers’ rights can be infringed even on the highest of levels.

But then again, the analogy does not hold much water. That tragic figures like Dave Duerson (former Chicago Bear who suffered massive brain trauma) continue to die in the most heinously sad ways does not mean that NFL players—compensated well enough already—can ever compare themselves to a 7th grade social studies teacher from Waukesha, Wis.

Like the austerity debates playing out state by state, however, the NFL labor battle is an incredibly nuanced situation, rife with compelling questions. No amount of compensation can make up for brain damage; but hasn’t football always been dangerous? Should people just stop playing? Should they simply ask for more money to make up for the dangers involved? Will football, in 20 years, be as irrelevant as boxing?

These questions are, at the very least, compelling enough to keep career jock-chasers like Florio from making such insanely misguided and ill-conceived comparisons.

Kevin Morris

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