Commentary: We taxpayers have let NFL owners, players down

The (Tacoma) News TribuneMarch 16, 2011 

I blame myself.

And I blame you, the taxpayers and you, the fans.

If only we all had provided more tax dollars for stadiums, if only we’d paid more for tickets and stadium grub and beer and league-sanctioned apparel, this wouldn’t be happening.

By “this” I mean, of course, the pending work stoppage that threatens that most-holy aspect of American life, the National Football League.

It’s been in all the papers, but you might have missed it due to coverage of something or other that happened in Japan or somewhere. The NFL owners and the NFL players are at an impasse, and it is possible that the 2011 season may be canceled.

I need to stop for a moment to collect myself. The very thought of it makes me verklempt.

OK, I’m back.

Anyway, it seems the union and the league can’t reach a new collective bargaining agreement because there isn’t enough money around to satisfy both. After failing to reach a deal, the players’ union decertified and filed antitrust lawsuits.

Not enough money? Since the NFL gets its money from taxpayers and fans, that means they don’t get enough money from us. Don’t you feel cheap? Well, you should.

When the owners asked taxpayers around the country for hundreds of millions of dollars for new stadiums, some of you objected, and some owners had to pick up some of the cost. That has left them nearly broke and able to pay the average quarterback only $10 million a season.

At least we think they’re nearly broke. The owners refused to show their finances to the players, just as they refused to share them with taxpayers. They are, after all, private businesses. Except when they aren’t, like when they demand tax subsidies disguised as “public-private partnerships.”

And they are under pressure to keep up with the Joneses. Specifically, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. While Qwest Field cost just $420 million, the new Cowboys Stadium came in at $1.15 billion, with the taxpayer share coming from sales, hotel and car rental taxes.

If you count standing-room-only seats, it can accommodate something like 5 million fans, most of whom can’t actually see the field but are still allowed to pay 15 bucks for a beer. Don’t worry, though, because Cowboys Stadium has a big screen the size of a suburb.

It has so many ways to pick the pockets of fans that all the other owners think they need one just like it – you know, to compete.

It is hard to choose between owners and players in disputes like this since both seem to do all right for themselves. But when the league cited recent labor conflicts in Wisconsin to support its viewpoint, it became clear they are far more removed from reality than the players.

“At a time when thousands of employees are fighting for their collective bargaining rights, this union has chosen to abandon collective bargaining in favor of a ‘sham’ decertification and antitrust litigation,” read a statement from the league.

The average linebacker is paid a bit more than the average Milwaukee middle school teacher. But the teacher has a longer career, with relatively few concussions or crippling knee injuries.

So I think I’m leaning toward the players, not so much the overpaid stars, but the linemen and special teams guys who have short careers and few endorsement deals.

Both sides are competing for your affection.

“First and foremost, it is your passion for the game that drives us all,” Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to fans.

And New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees tweeted fans that they have his word “that we as players are doing everything we can to negotiate with the NFL towards a fair deal.”

Now doesn’t that make you feel guilty? Here they are trying to do only what’s best for us, and we’re not even willing to pony up enough for new stadiums with big screens that can be seen from the Space Shuttle.

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