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The following editorial first appeared in the Chicago Tribune:
Billionaires vs. millionaires? In the National Football League labor dispute, it sure is hard to choose sides.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has taken an especially hard line even though his franchise is the NFL’s wealthiest and he got taxpayers to kick in more than $300 million for his fancy new stadium. On the other side, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson — he of the $11 million salary — recently compared playing in the NFL to “modern-day slavery.”
This month, the players’ union voted to decertify itself, paving the way for an antitrust lawsuit against the league that could reach a judge in early April. The owners have locked out the players, meaning trades, practices and free-agent signings are on hold. The lockout is the league’s first work stoppage since 1987. The 2011 season is in jeopardy.
And for what? Well:
The owners want to add to the $1.3 billion they take off the top of the revenue heap so they can maintain stadiums and other infrastructure. The players get 60 percent of what remains. The players want owners to open their books and are balking at the proposed new formula. The two sides are also fighting over whether to extend the regular season by two games and how much to pay rookies.
If your eyes have glazed over, we don’t blame you.
Surely, the owners and players will realize there are worse problems than dividing up $9 billion in annual revenue (that’s “billion” with a “B”). The average NFL franchise is worth $1 billion, according to Forbes magazine, while the average player makes about $2 million.
Regardless of what happens and regardless of who is right, the players and owners are taking the fun out of football. Fans don’t want to read about salary caps, they want to pore over the stats of draft picks. Sports pages should be devoting space to Tom Brady and Jay Cutler, not league commissioner Roger Goodell and union leader DeMaurice Smith.
The idea that professional sports are pure — well, much of that fantasy faded long ago. That’s not the frustrating part. It’s that, at the very least, pro sports should be an escape from the serious topics that invade our lives. That’s why we keep coming back for more, even after that owner jacks up ticket prices or that linebacker ignores our pleas for an autograph. That’s why thousands of desperate fans are organizing “Block the Lockout” events at sports bars nationwide.
The only way pro football can kill its golden goose is by alienating us, the fans. To both sides: Don’t steal our diversion. There are enough outrageous celebrities and out-of-touch corporate bigwigs out there. They belong on CNN, not ESPN.