July 21, 2011

Life after the lockout.

A few days from now, professional football will (probably) rise from the semi-dead. When this finally happens, we'll let out a little cheer...and then get right back to our quiet, uncomplicated lives. Nothing will change for us fans; nothing's changed this entire time. It's possible that, in a few years, we'll have forgotten everything that transpired here.

Meanwhile, a similar lockout is currently crippling the NBA's dream of a successful follow-up to the epic 2010-2011 season. And although the long-term effects of the 2004-2005 NHL lockout have been extremely positive, it took hockey quite a while to recover (at least Versus got a cool new name out of it all).

But that won't happen to the NFL. The draft went on without a hitch. No one's missing any games. Ray Lewis didn't kill anybody (else). The only downside was a late start to free agency and maybe some sloppy play for the first few weeks.

In fact, it's kind of a disgrace how many bytes and brain cells were wasted on analyzing this whole process. I think most intelligent fans realized a few weeks -- if not months -- ago that a deal was going to be worked out eventually. There's just too much money available for everyone involved in football, and no real reason to leave it all sitting on the table.

But it's the summer, when puff pieces are already de rigueur on the sports page. So we kept hearing about each side's stance on the issues, kept being buried in Peter King's love letters to Roger Goddell, kept dreaming up Kevin Kolb-to-Arizona trades while the rich handsome athletes and the rich old billionaires made faces at each other from across a long, expensive-looking table, one that was probably made of fine oak.

Sometimes it's fun to read about the economics of sports, especially when it relates to a league with a salary cap that your team has to navigate. But it's fleeting fun; there's a reason that auction drafts for fantasy sports are only a few hours long, that those stupid leagues where you have to build a team with 1,000 bucks and players valued in dollars aren't that popular. There comes a time where you just want to watch the games, and I think every reasonable fan reached that point a while ago.

But it is kinda odd that football will suffer no repercussions for this "work stoppage." It reminds me of a piece Chuck Klosterman wrote in one of his books -- I want to say Chuck Klosterman IV -- about rebelling against the American government. If, say, we could prove that 9/11 was a plot engineered by our leaders, how would the country's outraged citizens respond?

Basically, he decided that we wouldn't. At all. Where would we go? Who would we punch, or shoot? America's infrastructure is just too big and too entrenched; he made a great observation about how he's surprised they don't fuck with us more. In a certain way, we are pretty much helpless.

And that's kinda where the NFL has us all. It's by far the most popular sports league in the world's most influential country. The networks desperately need it for ratings. Certain cities define themselves by their teams, and the economic advantages of a game-day football crowd must be ample. People will never, ever turn away from the game. Hell, the league practically stabbed Cleveland in the back, but a nice new franchise was enough to re-buy most (not all) of that city's love.

Thankfully, the NFL isn't really using this power for evil (unless you count using taxpayer dollars to build massively expensive stadiums as "evil," which it probably is); they've been busy fucking amongst themselves. But now that a "potentially apocalyptic" lockout has pretty much been resolved, it's official: nothing can stop the NFL, not even itself.

(Note: Drew Magary posted a post-lockout recap today over at Deadspin, reminding us that the game will be just a little different when it returns in September. It's a great read.)

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