You're a professional football player. You're on strike. You don't like sitting around because you've spent 20 years playing football. You had no choice but to strike. The owners weren't paying you a fair share of the money they made from your work. You couldn't quit one team and go to another for a higher salary. You were a slave.

Not that you need money the way 11.6 million other Americans out of work need money. You won't stand in line for unemployment checks. This country's greatest economic crisis since the Depression won't cause you to sleep on a grate downtown. Your salary, if you're the average player, is $87,000. The Giants' general manager, George Young, called it a Mercedes strike. He's right, you know.

Yet you had no choice. The owners have a new $2 billion TV deal giving them each $70 million the next five years, more than doubling the old TV revenue. You deserve part of that windfall. The owners' record showed they would not, simply out of goodness, give you a fair share. To make sure they did, you threatened to strike.

The owners weren't worried. Twice before, players couldn't pull off a strike. This time you were so angry everyone walked off the job. For seven weeks now, you have shut down the NFL. You put on two "all-star" games. You won a point when the general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint charging the owners were not bargaining in good faith on your wage scale proposal.

But something is wrong.

The fight needs to be fought. It's just that you're fighting for the wrong reasons with the wrong tactics. You are alienating the fans (less than 15,000 showed up in stadiums seating 135,000 for your all-star games). Your legal point with the NLRB is disputable and could take years to decide. Meanwhile, you are risking a year's pay and maybe your career in a strike built on ideas that don't make sense.

You're a football player making $87,000 a year, and you want part of the money the owners found lying on the sidewalk. That you deserve it was proven on Sept. 8 when the owners, not out of goodness, offered you "bonus" money. Again last week they offered better bonuses, better severance pay, better pensions and insurance--better everything.

If you've been in the league four years, the owners would give you a $60,000 bonus. They would give you up to $15,000 annually according to performance statistics. Instead of $32,000 for winning the Super Bowl, you'd get $64,000.

In the seventh week of a strike for money, the owners offered your union a deal reportedly worth $1.28 billion over the next four years with 1982 to be negotiated.

Your union turned it down. You proposed $1.1 billion the next three years.

You said the owners' deal was a bribe. Your deal, you said, was honorable. You should know that some people don't understand this double-talk. They think you have gone over the edge. With 11.6 million Americans out of work, you turn down $1.28 billion to play ball.

You said you would never surrender, as if the owners wanted to kidnap your first-born instead of give you a billion dollars.

"Losing is like dying," George Allen said. Lombardi said, "We didn't lose, we just ran out of time." Football teaches these ideas, and if used right they are good ideas. No white flags.

That's what is wrong here.

It is one thing to strike if you seek the freedom a plumber has, freedom to change jobs. An end to slavery is worth a strike.

But that's not what your strike is about. You chose to stay in slavery. You chose to ignore free agency. Despite the dramatic rise in baseball salaries through free agency, you were persuaded that free agency wouldn't work in football. It doesn't work because your union settled long ago for compensation rules that make it foolhardy to sign a free agent (who might cost two No. 1 draft picks).

The union's mistake was agreeing to compensation based on salary. Ironically, salaries went up so quickly that the stiff compensation rules applied to even ordinary free agents. Ergo, free agency failed. "Outsmarted" is the word Ed Garvey used.

To be sure the union wouldn't be outsmarted this time, Garvey didn't bother with free agency.

The union boss called for a vote and 94 percent of you players voted to remain slaves. No free agency.

What you want is to be higher-paid slaves.

You approved Garvey's foolish plan, "etched in stone," calling for owners to hand over 55 percent of their revenues to a union "central fund." Then it would be dished out to you players. Soon, that idea was dropped in favor of 50 percent of TV revenues. Later, dropping that one also, Garvey asked for 50 percent of future pay-TV money, to be paid according to how many minutes you played.

Will you, we would like to know, wear a watch to work at right tackle?

This strike once seemed right. But sympathy has died. Now the strike seems only an exercise in bizarre egocentricity.

You doubt that? Last week the owners moved toward you with offers of big money. It is money you want, not freedom. But it wasn't enough money for you. Instead of $60 million in bonuses, Garvey asked for $91 million. And he insisted on the madness of a full-season schedule ending in mid-March.

Maybe you have won a few points. You showed the muscle to strike. You put on your silly little all-star games. You persuaded the NLRB that the owners refused to bargain with the union as a collective. You have moved the owners to offer you a lot of money.

But you have lost more than you have won. What was etched in stone turned out to be written on the wind. You gave up on a share of the current TV money. You dropped the idea of a central fund. This country has its economic troubles right now, and you're flaunting your excess. When the owners offer you a lot of money, you say it isn't enough and doesn't come in a pretty enough package.

This Mercedes strike now has a Rolls-Royce look about it.