I’m the kind of guy who has a large social circle that’s comprised of a roughly equal number of men and women. It’s a function of being a fraternity man, and also of relentlessly attending various networking events in the Cleveland area. I like to attend every event that I’m invited to, if possible, and when I’m there, I maximize the social opportunity. All the people I know tend to overlap in various ways, because Cleveland isn’t a very big city when you filter it down to young professional types. There are probably less than 500 or so who fit a similar profile to me. (I’d define that roughly as unmarried, younger than 40, college-educated, active, extroverted, and possessing a white collar job with an income above the median, mainly in the downtown Cleveland area.)
I realize that not everybody socializes like I do, but try to picture this. You have two friends of roughly equal stature in your loyalty hierarchy, one man and one woman. (I can think of a few of you who’d accuse me of making a political statement if I made it two people of the same gender. Yawn…)
The man and the woman (let’s call them Tom and Mary) become involved, and eventually, you and your significant other hang out with them a lot. They become your go-to friends, and you even go on vacation together. It’s funny how these things work, but the chemistry is just there, and it’s a really value-adding relationship. This goes on for years, and everything is great.
Then, suddenly, it turns sour between your friends, and they break up. Let’s say Mary really wanted to get married, and Tom was just a little too commitment-phobic, and she got tired of waiting for him to make the move, and put a ring on it. These things happen, and we’re telling a story, right?
Your life routine has now been upset, because you and your significant other’s go-to hangout couple has suddenly split up. Whose side do you take? Do you and your other take the same side? Maybe your sympathies split by gender, or there’s a moral component, where you view who was right and who was wrong, based upon the circumstances.
Whatever the case, the natural inclination is to take a side, though, right? The one who you sympathize with (let’s say it’s Tom) is steady trashing the other, and you’re there for your friend. Pretty soon, after hearing it enough, Mary, who you once held in similar esteem to Tom, starts seeming like the awful harpy that he’s making her out to be. You become more and more comfortable with trashing her, and before long, you’re doing it in conversations with mutual acquaintances, not even for any real need, but just because it feels like the right thing to do.
Then, suddenly, they get back together, and a ring emerges. Mary has heard about you dogging her around town, and she’s the opposite of pleased about it. Tom also remembers you calling his girl a slag whore, and he wonders, did you really mean it? It’s awkward now; even if they can both forgive you, it’ll probably never be the same.
What’s even worse than that is how you feel. You resent them both for putting you in this position, and even if they both forgave you, and wrote it off as one of these things that happens when people break up, you’ll always feel awkward around them, and wonder whether they secretly hate you. Other friends are careful not to ask you both to the same events, and your significant other is mad at you for screwing the whole thing up. It’s a mess, and it was unnecessary.
The right answer, of course, is that you never should have taken a side, or gotten emotionally involved. People break up, and in what is essentially a faultless situation, the right move is to be personally supportive of both parties, but to be careful not to let it go beyond that. You feel bad for them, but you can’t let their problems cause you problems in your own life. As we grow up and go through stuff like this, most of us learn that lesson.
Applying this concept to the recent labor fight in the NFL was the main force in my determination not to get emotionally involved or pick a side. Sure, I considered the players to be more right than the owners, especially because they were actively trying to ensure that there would be 2011 football, but it was never anything that I got very excited about. It’s all just business, right?
Of course, the media makes it hard to stay neutral, with all of their reports of charged-up rhetoric between the owners and the players. The TV people and writers are trying to make a labor dispute seem really dramatic, so they can drive page views and TV ratings. (Of course, we like page views too, but I think we chase them differently than the MSM does.)
Then, there are the villains. Every good narrative needs villains, right? The easy targets are the lawyers, and this labor dispute had a guy on both sides that people could blame. Jeff Pash looks like he’s about 5-foot-2, and he has some definite weasel-like qualities to his looks and his voice, and Jeff Kessler was easily the most frequently mentioned villain on the players’ side. Most people hate lawyers, which is interesting, because there are so many crappy law procedural shows on TV. (Like most businessmen, I don’t hate lawyers; I just mostly think of them as dorks who play a small part in the important things that are going on. Somebody has to read and write the contracts, right?)
I wrote an article on Friday that poked some good clean fun at the kind of people who were freaking out on Twitter and Sirius XM NFL Radio about how the players were being greedy, and just wanted to hold up progress, and blah blah blah. Of course, it was all nonsense and hyperbole, and the participants in the business negotiated a resolution that allowed their business to continue, in completely predictable fashion.
Some of you were mad at me about that article, and some called me names. Some threatened to stop visiting this site or reading my work. I admittedly turned my criticism toward owner-worshippers, because they were the ones who’d recently been hurting my eyes and ears with their foolishness, but honestly, I think there are some player-sympathizers who’ve been just as silly. They're harder to find, but they're out there.
The interesting question to me today is whether people got too fired up about this to go on like nothing ever happened. Can you step right back into going on vacation with your friends now that they’re engaged?
I’ll tell you, I watched the press conference yesterday - and seeing Jeff Saturday hug Robert Kraft, and listening to Roger Goodell thank DeMaurice Smith and players like Saturday and Domonique Foxworth for their leadership, I saw a bunch of men that did business, came to a resolution, and harbor no hard feelings. All the posturing and rhetoric, all the lawsuits, the lockout, and the publicity stunts were simply about advancing the business objectives of each side.
I don’t usually like to say I told you so, but you know, really, I have been saying that that was the case all along. It was all for show, like an extended episode of WWE Raw, and the people who got really caught up in all the talk, and all the bad feeling are marks just like the fans of one oiled-up wrestler over another. At the end of the day, the whole thing is an elaborate show designed to get as much money as possible.
The best thing about this being over is that I’ll hopefully never have to write about NFL labor wars again. If I do, I’ll be middle-aged, and maybe with a little more gray hair, more people will take my advice to just chill on getting too emotionally involved with something that has absolutely nothing to do with you or me. The owners and the players proved that they’re always eventually going to make a deal and come out of it ready to conduct business, with no bad feelings. Everybody involved is too smart to kill the golden goose.
Fans should remember this, and remember Saturday hugging Kraft, which will be the most enduring image of this whole process for me. Don’t let the spin-masters rope you in or raise your heartbeat about stuff like this. When you get too overzealous about things, sometimes it’s hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
I just hope that each of you is able to enjoy football on a go-forward basis, without any lingering bad feelings toward the players, or the owners, or both. They were just doing business, and as much as populist jackasses were howling about why fans should have a seat at the negotiating table, it was never about us, in any way. For all the stuff out there about how the NFL can make it up to fans, I think the fans just need to get over it, as best they can. It’s time for some football, friends, and I couldn't be more excited about that.