Here’s an idea: Every National Football League owner should be made to participate in one full- pads practice. Just one.
If, when the final whistle blows, he can walk without assistance and talk coherently, then said owner can put up for discussion the idea of an 18-game regular season.
Something tells me the results would mirror the CBS program “Undercover Boss,” where suit-wearing, corporate bigwigs don disguises to see what life is like for the grunts in their employ. It would be a hoot to see the groaning owner, ice packs affixed to, well, everything, trying to get feet to floor the next morning.
OK, so the idea of Buffalo’s 91-year-old owner, Ralph Wilson, donning a helmet is absurd. Only slightly less absurd, though, is the notion that more games, and in turn more revenue, is a good idea for behemoth athletes who, as John Madden would say, knock the snot out of each other every week.
What’s the big deal about two measly games, you ask?
Well, contrary to what most football fans think, they haven’t really experienced an NFL game. You don’t get the whole truth sitting in section 215. Or 115, even.
Designed to Destroy
You do, however, get an inkling of what NFL players endure by standing on the sideline when some halfback runs a sweep and he’s met by a no-neck linebacker at breakneck speed.
These guys don’t just tackle. They destroy.
It isn’t a question of whether an NFL player is going to get hurt. It’s when, how often and how bad. Injuries are a given.
The idea of more games, owners will tell you, is more palatable when you consider their plan comes with a reduction in the number of preseason games.
It’s an apples to watermelons comparison. Starters and regular-season regulars don’t play all that much during the preseason.
The idea of more games is understandable from the perspective of an owner, all of whom are looking for new ways to generate revenue.
The knee-jerk reaction is to add games, which means more TV money, more sponsorship, more advertising, more parking, more hot dogs and more beer. More everything, including the sorts of injuries that leave not just a player’s body in tatters but his mental functions, too.
Living in Pain
Ask any NFL player how he feels in Week 1. Ask again after Week 16.
Don’t today’s players know that Joe Namath sometimes had fluid drained from his knees at halftime? He had both knees replaced in retirement. Don’t they know that Earl Campbell, one of the most punishing running backs in NFL history, can barely walk these days? What about all the retired players with dementia?
Ray Lewis knows.
“We’re not automobiles; we’re not machines,” the Ravens veteran linebacker said, according to the New York Times. “It’s a lot of football. It’s rough.”
It’s worse than rough. Asking players to accumulate more hits, more trauma, borders on reckless.
It’s puzzling that a former player, Tom Curtis, who played two seasons for the Baltimore Colts in the early 1970s, back when the NFL season consisted of 14 games, wrote in the August edition of Dolphin Digest under the header, “Big thumbs up for 18-game season.”
“The fans will be the real beneficiaries of the extended regular season,” wrote Curtis, whose article was, surprise, surprise, trumpeted on a labor-related Web site controlled by the NFL.
Curtis in a telephone interview said the extra bucks allocated to the players would soothe the bumps and bruises. This from a guy who says he lives with “a lot of pain” from arthritic knees.
“But I can still play golf,” he said. Lucky him.
Fans do, indeed, win with an 18-game season. Owners win, too. But the players lose, even if their wallets get a tad fatter. What good is the cash to a washed up athlete who starts his day with Vicodin?
If anything, NFL players should lobby for fewer games, not more. If that means a little less money, so be it. Maybe then fewer players would require replacement (insert appropriate joint here) surgery after retirement.
The players, whose labor contract expires after this season, should have a chat with NBA Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter, a former NFL running back and kick returner whose career ended after two seasons because of injury.
I spent time with Hunter shortly after his knee replacement surgery. Agony was the word he used between winces and wails.
Hunter, the labor negotiator, liked to use the phrase “blood issue,” which applied to anything his constituents felt so strongly about that it wasn’t up for negotiation. No matter what.
The addition of two games should be a blood issue for the football players, even though Patriots owner Bob Kraft called the idea a “win-win all around.”
Maybe quarterback Tom Brady, who knows about reconstructive knee surgery, and his Patriots teammates can discuss the matter in the ice bath after Kraft and his son, Jonathan, the team’s president, take part in practice. Provided, of course, either of them can make it off the field.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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