In the battle for NFL labor supremacy, I'm rooting for football. I'm rooting for order in my world, and my entertainment to remain untouched.
However, forced to choose a side, I am rooting for the players.
I don't know if I represent Joe NFL Fan, I don't know if my feelings are tainted from living in Houston (where our owner's casual acceptance of 6-10 as being "on the right track" undoubtedly affects my outlook), I don't know if it's because I actually know and like a few players.
But I am rooting for the players to win, whatever "winning" means (insert overplayed Charlie Sheen joke here).
Why, then, are they making this difficult on me?
Right now, public relations are pretty simple if you're the players -- just manage the game. You can talk to the media, you can rally the troops, you can even tweet lunacy (although the slavery analogies are a bit much, Adrian), just make sure when the time comes for me to consume your product again that there is a product there and it's not altered.
Which brings me to next month's NFL Draft.
Word began circulating on Monday that the NFL Players Association was going to send out correspondence to 17 of the top incoming NFL prospects and ask that they not attend the NFL Draft next month. After an initial uproar from fans, the NFLPA hastily clarified its stance, saying it wasn't forbidding any future players from going to New York, just strongly encouraging them to do stay away (without mentioning the advanced shit-in-the-duffel-bag level of hazing the players would probably receive if they did attend).
After the uproar still failed to subside (and after NFL fans spoke out via an ESPN poll to the tune of 72% saying the draft boycott idea sucks), NFLPA executive George Atallah took to his Twitter account to clarify exactly what the Players Association has in mind:
"Lots of interesting commentary on the possible NFL Draft issue. Fans rightfully frustrated. We will set the record straight today.
"Let me also correct the record: the NFLPA is not asking anyone to 'boycott' anything. NFL Draft in particular.
"The NFL Draft is special. Players and their families will be in NYC. It just maybe different. We will provide details when we can.
"I have been careful about what I can say on the record given our post-lockout world. There is a lot of frustration out there from everyone.
"The anger is palatable, but stick with us, we will be return to our positive message. We will get back to focusing on the good."
There you go, clear as mud.
Here's the thing, George -- we don't want "different." The college players who would be attending the draft don't want "different."
We like the NFL Draft just the way it is, that's why it's the fourth major sport in our country behind actual football, actual baseball and actual basketball. We like watching the players saunter up onto the stage and shake the commissioner's hand (or if you're Gerald McCoy, give him an awkward man hug); they like sauntering up onto the stage and playing ass grab with the commish as they realize the culmination of years of pain, sweat and sacrifice.
They love holding up the jersey of the team that just chose to commit tens of millions of dollars to them. We love watching them hold up the jersey. There's nothing more innocent than watching a player actually smile while holding up a Cincinnati Bengals jersey. Because not only will this be the last time that player is smiling about being a Bengal, but if history holds true, it will be the last time we use that player's name and "Bengal" and "innocent" in the same sentence.
We love watching the green room experience. We love to play the guessing game on how many people in a player's entourage are actual relatives, which people in the green room are agents, how much their suits cost, and we love to keep a running scorecard on the quality of the players' girlfriends.
Most of all, we love watching the final player in the green room every season. See, the thing about all of the players in the green room at Radio City Music Hall is that even the last one there will be guaranteed several million dollars, which means it's a lock that person will be more successful than I just by merely affixing their signature to a piece of paper, and there's a decent chance I'll be doing some menial task for them in my old age.
The green room is our last chance to laugh at them before they officially become wealthy, when they are theoretically still one of us. The schadenfreude that comes with watching Aaron Rodgers plummet to 24th overall or watching Brady Quinn being led to a private room because Miami passed on him at #9 three hours ago -- you are robbing me of this if indeed there is a "different" draft experience this April.
I don't want "different." I don't want social media replacing the awkward hugs; I don't want Skype from some hotel down the street replacing the voyeurism of the green room. I don't want some anonymous NFLPA stooge conducting the interviews, I want Stuart Scott. (Damn, did I just say that?...I guess I did.)
Frankly, players, most of us could care less about your decertification. We don't fully understand the legal ramifications, and we have enough of our own problems to worry about without adding the semantics of the infrastructure of your roster of members to the list.
The pain of this work stoppage is latent, until it starts impacting our entertainment. At that point, the pain becomes acute.
You're fucking with my draft. The draft entertains me. Therefore, you're fucking with my entertainment.
Now I'm angry.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from noon to 3 p.m. weekdays and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.
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