FanShot

NFL Owners' money grab is the epitomy of shameless greed.

14

I couldn't have said it better myself. Hats off to The Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston for telling it like it is. As "Camp Colt" moves from the University of Texas to Baldwin-Wallace, with other undisclosed sites possibly in the offing, one thing becomes obvious: How much the players for the Browns and other teams love the game the NFL owners have taken away from them. Although there is some debate about the usefulness of such informal workouts, this is exactly the kind of enterprise fans want to see from their team and its leader, Colt McCoy. A.J. Hawk, who won a Super Bowl in Green Bay last season after starring at linebacker at Ohio State, says such workouts are almost useless, since they can't come close to simulating game conditions. For a young team like the Browns, though, the downside, except for a freak injury which could occur anywhere, is hard to see. At the very least, McCoy and his receivers get some timing down through repetitions and, since McCoy has a playbook of the new West Coast offense, the players can familiarize themselves with it. That the players should have to travel the land to practice together speaks to the destructive effects of this needless lockout, not to mention the gall of the owners who have fostered it. The NFL is the most successful sports league in this country by far. Even now, in a troubled economy, Americans can't get enough vicarious violence on Sunday, so games are also played on Monday, Saturday and Thursday. Television networks negotiate with the league the way vassals did with medieval lords, murmuring, "Your wish is my command, my liege." It does not seem to matter that the league did not get on top of the concussion issue for too long, although the physical price the game exacted was obvious every time you saw Doug Dieken's bow-legged gait (until he had a double knee replacement) or listened to Bernie Kosar's slurred words. The latter was caused in part by Kosar's refusal to use a mouthpiece so he could clearly call out audibles -- and by the shots he took to his unprotected mouth as a result. Yet one of the things the NFL is seeking in the next collective bargaining agreement is an 18-game regular season. They claim the fans want that. But what fans probably want is two fewer overpriced, half-baked exhibition games, not two more games that will count and will increase the injury toll on players. The NFL is a $9 billion organization. The owners immediately take $1 billion off the top under the old CBA to cover expenses. Now they want another billion and more games that count to increase the gate receipts. Otherwise, they say, they can't conduct business the way they have in the past. When the players asked to see the books to determine just how dire are the owners' straits, the response was the same as always: "Not no how, not no way." You know, just as it was when Dorothy asked to see the Wizard of Oz. It is at this point that we must mention NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! Goodell cuts a fine figure in a suit. He looks like a leader. But the effect of his hard-line stance was to have fans almost booing him off the stage at the NFL Draft. He is wasting the equity he built up with fans for a firm, but measured response to the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal. Adam "Pac-Man" Jones and other miscreants felt the sting of his wrath. But a commissioner has to be about more than preventing vicious treatment of animals by his employees and policing the help at last call. Fans usually blame players for labor disputes because they are living out the fans' fantasies and still want more benefits. This time, though, the majority of fans polled fault the owners. This needless lockout disadvantages young teams. It hurts the integration into the Browns' system of the players from their much-praised draft. It leaves in limbo the many undrafted players who could sign as free agents with the team that best fits their abilities. Josh Cribbs began that way. Goodell's answer is a grandstanding promise to take a $1 salary during the lockout. It should not disguise that the NFL is seeking to exploit its own players, who endure more punishment and play for a shorter time with less contractual security than in any other mainstream sport. This is a money grab by the already obscenely rich and powerful, and nothing more.

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