May 21st passed without Rapture but for an NFL mired in its worst labor dispute since 1987, the signs of doom are neigh. Let’s recap: Ochocinco is moonlighting on the rodeo circuit. Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis is considering a jump to professional wrestling. Marc Sanchez has product placed his way into the NASCAR circuit. With all due respect to the rodeo, wrestling and NASCAR, they represent three of the best reasons NFL players shouldn’t quit their day jobs.
Ray Lewis had a prophetic tone this weekend, when he forecast a spike in “evil” should the season be canceled. The Ravens linebacker stated that fans, players, hangers on, (sports writers?) will be so lost without football that they’ll turn to crime. Why? Because there’s nothing else to do. “There’s too many people that live through us, people live through us.” While Lewis may think he’s “defending his house” with such commentary, he’s actually tearing it down. Football’s inflated sense of its own worth is what has led to its current quagmire and is what needs to be reformed in order to avoid permanent damage.
As I suspected, the lockout has been neither short nor sweet. What’s worse, fans don’t seem to care. Are they bitter, or has paying attention to sports that are actually in season become more exciting that watching billionaires and millionaires grandstand about how tough life is?
The NFL may have choked the golden goose this time. Perhaps when fantasy leagues start getting canceled and players start signing AFL contracts, the impact of this labor strife will become clear. Football’s title as America’s favorite sport is in jeopardy.
Over the past decade, the NFL successfully turned a five-month season into to a year-around money maker. From Pro Bowl to combine to draft to mini camps to preseason to fantasy draft season and back to opening day it never stopped. And if there were lulls, offseason distractions (Favre, Pacman, T.O., Big Ben) filled the void. Now the train has stopped and fans don’t seem particularly disturbed.
Perhaps we needed a break. Perhaps the NFL is a victim of its own success. Perhaps players and owners should realize that fans don’t need football as much as football needs them.