With only three football games left in the 2010-2011 season (four if you include the ProBowl), the rhetoric surrounding the NFL owners and the National Football League Players Association regarding a possible player lockout is unfortunately starting to rise to a fever pitch as both camps work to get fans on their side of the argument. Email blasts sent directly to the fans from Commissioner Roger Goodell citing a bad economy for player wage rollbacks, NFLPA declaring today #LETUSPLAY day on various social media sites so fans can voice their support for the players union.

And rightfully so, the fans have been making their voice heard about what they think of a lockout, either why they think it’s harmful for the players or why they think a lockout would be good for the league. Smart — but different — takes on what a lockout means helps drive discussion and fan awareness of all of the issues involved. Discourse and information matters.

Which is why I found MJD’s column on Yahoo! about #LETUSPLAY so upsetting this morning.

Myself, I’m saying no. No, I’m sorry, you don’t get to have a #LETUSPLAY day. Instead, how about every day be declared #SHUTUPANDWORKITOUTDAY until you people can decide on the best way to divide up your billions?

How dare you ask people to “do [their] part as a fan,” as if it’s the fans who aren’t doing enough here. You know what a fan’s job is? It’s to watch and enjoy this game. To spend money on tickets, television packages and merchandise. To submit our eyeballs to commercials before and after every single kickoff in a game.

You know that gigantic pile of money you guys can’t decide how to divide? That came from us. That was us, doing our part. It is not our part to take a side in your petty battle over who gets to roll around in more of that money.

This is not me taking a side in the lockout. This is me resenting even being asked to take a side. My side is “shut up, work it out, and play football.” I don’t care what you do or how you do it. I don’t even want to know. Quit trying to win sympathy and just figure it out.

Let’s take a step back for a minute and forget being a fan part. You are an ordinary citizen and football has little consequence on your life. Or does it? Even if your local stadium wasn’t completely financed by a team owner — a relatively new concept after decades of publicly financed and built fields designed to help create construction and service jobs –  between land and bond issues, concessions are generally granted by local and state governments to help ease the burden of new stadiums. (Ask any resident of Pittsburgh about what it feels like vote down a tax increase just to have the majority of Heinz Field and PNC Park financing still come from the public coffers through Plan B. Even some of the most ardent Steeler fans felt hoodwinked.) So fan or not, the local citizens have a financial stake in a lockout. Games not played means fewer people working jobs selling nachos, ushering people to seats and maintaining facilities. Those are just some of direct jobs lost. Indirectly, local hotels and restaurants will see a decline in visitors without football. The NFLPA estimates local economies will lose an average of $20 million dollars in revenue for each game lost to a lockout, a number the NFL disputes.

But even if the number is as low as $1 million dollars lost to locals for each weekend a stadium goes empty, shouldn’t the average person be educated on what the issues are surrounding the lockout in a time when municipal spending is being slashed to the bone? Shouldn’t they be informed about the safety nets both the owners and the players have, although very different in size, if there isn’t football and ask where the guarantees are for the communities that helped pay for their homes?

Now back to being a fan. If you believe in cheering on players just as much as you enjoy cheering the laundry, isn’t it important to be informed what possible game changes mean for the people on the field and what it means for their health? Or as a season ticket holder, if you’re going to get two more “valuable” regular season games with two “less valuable” preseason games?

I have never and will never believe that my job as a consumer is to just enjoy the show, to passively and blindly spend money either directly on a product or through my attention to advertising without questioning to where it all goes. How we spend our money speaks about our values and what we look for in corporate stewardship in the public forum, and there is not greater place to see those two worlds collide than in sports.

To encourage not forming an opinion on the lockout is jaded and sad. Save the shallow “I don’t care what you do or how you do it,” talk for grass versus turf debate where it belongs.

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7 Responses to Yes, you should have an opinion on the upcoming lockout.

  1. [...] Didn't W.C. Fields once say, "During Prohibition, I was forced to live for days on nothing but food and IC Light?" Yes, you should have an opinion on the upcoming lockout. [...]

  2. Bryan says:

    I’m torn. On one hand, I agree with MJD (if not the tone) that this really doesn’t—or more to the point, won’t—involve the fans in a meaningful way, and to ask us to “support” either side in the hopes there’s some Twittercal mass that pushes the negotiations is just silly. On the other hand, if Favre has taught us anything, it’s that people will consume ANYTHING football-related, so it’s really absurd to expect them not to try. And to your point, it doesn’t hurt to be uninformed about anything, especially not with so much money at stake. I mean, out-of-work Vikings vendors got pub on SportsCenter and that was for two games.

    I also categorically reject, like you do, that my job is to blindly spend time and money on the NFL. I have a bigger problem with the idea that I do—it’s one reason Tunison’s book never appealed to me… I think the first and only rule of a “football fan’s manifesto” would be “don’t let anyone tell you how to be a football fan”—and I think that sort of “don’t tell me what to do” thing is what MJD is trying to get across. For all his bluster, though, his non-opinion is an opinion, and mine too. I would just never tell anyone to be uninformed.

  3. Bryan says:

    Actually what am I talking about? I’m pro-labor.

    I’m dumb. You got the smart Bryan.

    • sarah sprague says:

      Not dumb, and I get what you’re saying.

      I agree, no one should authoritatively tell anyone how to be a fan of anything. (See; Oswald, Patton.) I read the
      Football Fan’s Manifesto much in the same way as I did Leitch’s God Save the Fan, which is to say, “This is what makes sports either enjoyable or not enjoyable for me as a fan.” One took a lighter tone, and the other a mixed tone of comedy and seriousness. (The one that stayed true to one voice is the one that worked for me.)

      What really bothered me about text of MJD’s post it was only two already rich camps arguing over money and that it really doesn’t matter to us as fans as long as the two sides worked it out without bothering to tell us the details. It does matter. It matters to me as a human being if player injuries go up due to a longer season. It matters to me if ticket prices change due to the longer season. It matters to me if the two sides don’t come to an agreement and put people out of work when so much development has been promised around football.

      I cannot hope that everyone will take the time and read up on both sides of the CBA, but I can hope people are not apathetic just because they see the lockout as an issue of two “rich” groups fighting with each other. It’s more than that.

  4. Jeff says:

    While I generally support having an educated opinion on just about anything, I try not to take sides unless there’s some actual reason to. I can’t see how my siding with either the players or the owners will have even the most minute effect on the outcome of this labor negotiation. “The fans are on our side” just isn’t a valuable bargaining chip. I really don’t know why the players are bothering. And it doesn’t matter who the fans blame during the strife because when it’s over they’ll be back, or they won’t, and football will go on. The damage or lack of damage will be the same whether the owners are locking the players out or the players are striking. You think the average fan cares which it is, or even understands the difference? I don’t. (Incidentally, I know the players say they won’t strike. I think that there’s absolutely no chance, if there isn’t a lockout, that there isn’t a strike. My personal guess is that it would occur on about Labor Day, but it could theoretically happen at any time–including the day after the regular season ends, or Super Bowl Sunday.)

    Look, the owners know the fans want football. Me signing a petition saying, in effect, that I want football isn’t adding information or leverage. So why is everyone so worked up over it?

    By the way, I think your arguments regarding economic development are a little off point, for two reasons. The first is that economic development around stadia is largely a myth in the first place. Which is to say, it’s overwhelmingly substitutionary, not complementary. More or less all serious economists agree on this. Now, overwhelmingly doesn’t mean exclusively, so maybe it’s a fair point to consider. But second, let’s suppose that my local economy does lose $1 million a week. Why should I care if that’s on the owners or the players? Is it something to be concerned about? If it exists, then yes. But blaming one side or the other doesn’t alleviate the injury or resolve the impasse.

    I don’t know. My $0.02.

    • sarah sprague says:

      Jeff, all good points. Maybe I am either too hopeful or naive, but I would like to think that the quick resolution to any sort of labor stoppage would be at least be in part due the response and opinions of the fans. (And I would hope that the players would look closely at other entertainment strikes of the past decade, namely the recent WGA strike that left us with even more reality television and a few years of crappy, hastily rushed movies being flushed through the system that saw its support crumble as the stoppage dragged on.) But of course, simply saying “I just want football” doesn’t help anything.

      You do bring up a good question. If stadia development and growth is largely substutionary, what steps in to fill the void in the NFL’s absence? (And funny, I was just reading an article on how Goodell said the Falcons will not host another Super Bowl until Atlanta builds a new venue, even though their stadium is less than 20 years old. One cannot deny the economic impact of hosting the leagues premiere event, even it is just temporary.)

  5. Mike says:

    The Plan B turned me against publicly subsidized privately owned professional sports. I wouldn’t mind if a lockout/strike made fans stop caring about their teams so much, maybe some of them would find another hobby, or another sport to watch.

    I would be very much in favor of publicly subsidized athletics and have no objection to privately financed competitions. Either way it is entertaining without being a travesty.

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