Richard Stroud

Grove Sun

Words like odd, strange and weird have been used and overused in the past few days to describe what is happening in the National Football League right now in the wake of the lockout. Having to do three monthsí worth of wheeling and dealing with free agents in three weeks isnít weird or strange, itís been a blessing. Letís get this over with already. The Redskins have about two weeks to spend foolishly on aging, big-name free agents and Brett Favre has about three hours to decide whether he wants suck eggs for yet another season. This isnít any weirder than using a microwave instead of an oven. Is it so odd to cook your food in two minutes instead of twenty?

The truly strange thing in this abbreviated period is the way the owners and players have apologized repeatedly to the leagueís fans, putting on at least a veneer of caring. Why? For what? For throwing a stark reminder in fansí faces that this, after all, a business? The lockout has exposed the often buried intersection where the fansí escapist, dream-like attitude toward their sports and their teams, one in which they feel as if they are a part of the team, meets the reality of cold, hard cash. There was even a group of seemingly serious, sane Americans who demanded a place at the table in the negotiations.

This is absurd beyond words. Just because fans willingly fork over millions of dollars for tickets, merchandise and DirecTV packages doesnít give them a right to decide how those millions should be divided. Fans donít have a say in the NFLís business any more than they do in Wal-Martís.

The group that wanted to be a part of the negotiations, the nonprofit Sports Fans Coalition, thinks that because citizens in NFL cities have regularly contributed to the building of stadiums the relationship is different from your typical business-community partnership. Firstly, communities routinely shell out money Ė mostly in the form of tax breaks Ė to attract and keep local businesses. Secondly, just because youíre stupid enough to give a billionaire owner millions of dollars to build a stadium whose profits will mostly go back to the owner, that doesnít make you a partner. It makes you a sucker.

ďThis is something that the public has a vested interest in,Ē the Coalition states. That may be true, but itís a one-way interest. Players, rightly so, are only interested in squeezing enough money out of the four-to-eight year windows of their careers as they can. As for the owners, well, you donít get to be a billionaire by caring about the feelings of common people.

Of course, any hurt feelings the fans may have had were forgotten about five minutes after the lockout ended. Once again, the fantasy that is professional sports fandom has already begun to regain its hold.