The Mercy Rule

The NFL's Final Offer

By David Roth

Football has never been embraced by anyone outside of the USA, and it’s easy to see why. A good football game can be fun to watch, but football is also loud and backwards and discussed with a Barcalounger-tough-guy militarism that is unmistakably, unattractively American. It's played more or less entirely by American-born people, albeit with the occasional Cousin Balky comic relief of a foreign-born kicker or punter, and set at a grunty stop-and-start pace that will be familiar to any exurban commuter or sexagenarian Tea Partier tasked with climbing a flight of stairs. Factor in a discourse defined by a constant sense of gay panic (witness the accompanying commercials where hapless bros nearly bumble into anal by purchasing the faggoty brand of light beer) and the average NFL game is as good an advertisement against American culture as anything not airing on SpikeTV. So why should we be happy that the NFL's 136-day lockout ended today?

Well, firstly because Brian Cushing's ‘roid cycles would make him a liability at Kinko's, and because concussion proponent James Harrison would be a shitty high school guidance counselor. But that bit of social crisis aversion aside, the end of the NFL lockout is also worth celebrating as a rare example of billionaires getting their noses bloodied. For all the things that are wrong about the NFL, this outcome reeks strangely of justice.

Which isn't to say that the new collective bargaining agreement makes everything OK. The violence and mind-bending risk of tackle football remains; the more egregiously life-threatening stuff can theoretically be regulated, but owners will resist having to pay for it and sport pundits with no risk of brain-scrambling injuries at their day gigs will cry fat tears about the feminizing of the game. But none of that was up for debate during the lockout. Same as it ever was, being a professional football player is a well-compensated but exceptionally dangerous job, one defined by the near certainty of traumatic injury and the day-to-day insecurity of working on non-guaranteed contracts for some of the most noxious billionaires the world has ever seen.

The NFL's toxic Chamber of Commerce precipitated the lockout hoping to—in the words of Hardee's magnate and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson—“take back our league” from the players who comprise both its product and its labor force. A year after the league earned a record $9.4 billion, the owners demanded to keep $1 billion off the top for themselves, extend the season to 18 games, and hand the players an 18 percent pay cut. For the galactic balls it took to create the lockout and the crass advantage-pressing of their pursuit, the NFL owners at least deserve credit for authoring a crisis that was—no less than the retarded jet engine of wrongness that is the NFL discourse itself—a bleakly fascinating microcosm of everything that's fucked with politics and power in America circa now. And yet, for once, the worse and more powerful side didn't win.

The deal that the players signed (and which Richardson, mystifyingly, apparently did much to craft) isn't perfect, of course. But it guarantees better pay and better safety for the NFL's rank and file, protects rights that need protecting, and makes a few commonsense business concessions to the owners—and most importantly for fans, it gets us back into the ridiculous, brutal, and much more enjoyable world of actual football.

There's a lot that's corny about the childishly volatile sentimentality with which NFL fans both worship and trash their interchangeable gladiator heroes, but projecting a little sentimentality onto one side in a bully-picked labor-versus-management fight makes a certain kind of sense, as does celebrating that win. Which means that we can now get back to things that make no sense, like fretting over our light beer brand choices turning us gay. After months of b-roll footage of men walking into courtrooms and a rare non-victory for the plutocrats, even those beer commercials seem worth cheering for.

DAVID ROTH

Previously - Where They Keep the Money

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