A Crack in The Shield

In the summer swelter of September, a sudden chill runs down my back and an itchy feeling takes over at the realization that the greatest season of the year is upon me. Football Season has always and will always be my favorite time of year. I am happier, and a little fatter, from September to Super Bowl Sunday.

Sadly, I may lose that lovin’ feelin due to a looming player’s strike. It’s become increasingly clear that tensions between the players and owners are reaching a tipping point. DeMaurice Smith, Executive Director, NFL Players Association, thinks so and is on record saying: “I think that the likelihood of either a strike or a lockout is, almost in ’21, a virtual certainty.”

Leaked commentary from an October 17th closed-door NFL owner’s meeting made a bad situation worse. Eleven owners, twelve current players, one former player, and three union leaders were gathered to discuss ongoing protests about police brutality and institutional racism when Houston Texans owner Bob McNair stated, “we can’t have the inmates running the prison.” Understandably, McNair’s comments pissed off a lot of players. Texans’ star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins didn’t show up to practice, and some of his teammates had to be persuaded to wear the uniform.

Defenders of his statement have focused on the quote being a figure of speech, and as such, not meant to be taken seriously. If you accept that argument, I have to say it’s a terrible figure of speech to use in reference to a racially charged situation. Words matter and context counts, a sentiment that is clearly lost on McNair. His statement speaks to a mindset that suggests the owners are not in a partnership with the players. Rather, players are seen as disposable, discarded when damaged and easily replaced. This mentality dates back to the earlier days of a struggling league when they operated as a cohesive unit to seal their success. The phrase, “protect the shield,” was a nod to the NFL shield being the league’s most valuable asset.  Putting the shield ahead of the players will lead to a strike, and McNair’s comments may have put it on the fast track.

Players are experiencing an awakening of their standing within the league and there is no going back.  They see that the NBA is structured to allow for players to operate from a position of power and they want the same. The difference with the NBA is that players are the product, which is not the case in the NFL. The NBA’s marketing strategy is player driven. You don’t turn on a Cavs/Celtics game for the team story, you tune in to see LeBron VS. Kyrie, and that’s intentional. It’s why the NBA has a better working relationship with their players. NBA players cut max deals, guaranteed contracts, and build their brand with custom shoes.  They have the freedom to profit from their athletic prowess, which is why the NBA player/owner partnership works.

NFL owners have been given a pass on their anti-player policies for years. For example, they often do not provide medical coverage for players that get injured and cut by their teams, leaving them to pay out of pocket for medical expenses for on-the-job injuries. Vice Sports put together an excellent video on this subject.

Strong messaging has put the owners in the driver’s seat during player disputes. They paint a picture of whiny, millionaire athletes. The owner’s coordinated and greedy campaign to control profits and power is crushing the players and cracking the shield.

The strike is coming and will hit football fans like a freight train. If you’re like me, you’ll be outraged that you can’t wake up to a football-filled Sunday. Assuming you buy the owner’s message that the players are a bunch of crybaby millionaires, I challenge you to listen to the players because they have a story to tell. You should root for them because they provide us with a one of a kind entertainment experience and earn the NFL $9 billion in profits a year.

So listen to them and understand that at the end of the day they are just looking for a fair shake from the most lucrative league in the world.