- C.S. Lewis
It's interesting that we see the game of football as more than a game, but not surprising. There is a primal instinct in human beings that thrives off of violence and imposing one's will upon another. For nearly a century now, the sport has evolved into what was once a group of rag-tag roughhousers plodding up and down an overgrown field into perhaps the most calculated form of socially acceptable warfare. In this game, behemoths of men clash into one another in order to move a relatively small, brown ball past a line at the end of a field.
It's a simple concept, but football and the NFL is so much more than just that. Just as theatre is more than just running about a stage in a costume, the game has many levels and layers. As fans, we have been used to seeing just one layer of the beast known as the National Football League; the games on the field. For the longest time, that, along with a few post-game press conferences, was all that was accessible to the casual fan. Just recently, within the past decade technology has boomed, making the "inside scoop" on everyone's favorite team a highly demanded commodity. Fans can now follow their beloved team closer than they could have ever imagined, and as a society, we are getting to the point where we are so connected to every aspect of our teams that we feel as though we know them on a personal level. They become a part of us and in many ways define who we are or who we want to be.
However, not everything is good from having the "inside scoop". We always believed that the game was nothing more than what it appeared to be on the surface, that it merely evolved superficially and nothing internal was changed. As fans, we are optimists thinking nothing of the internal scheme of the business side of the game. In fact, we are so naive that we choose to completely ignore that it's a business at all. We could not be more wrong. Just as defenses and offenses in the league have grown more complex and sophisticated, the business aspect of the league has changed even more so, but only just now are we realizing this. In my opinion, it may too late to save the game we once loved. In fact, that ship sailed long ago, before the first lockouts or strikes ever occurred.
We want the league to bring back the real officials and end the shenanigans that have been destroying the integrity of this great game. As Saints fans in particular, we want the league to withhold its harsh and seemingly unnecessary punishments to our coaches and players involved in the bounty scandal. Neither of these will happen under anyone's terms except the league's. They have been brilliant in their scheme to turn the game into an invincible superpower that has global recognition.
Their PR work has been impeccable the past few years as they have "fought" to maintain the health and integrity of the players and the game by striking down with a firm hand those who oppose their ideals. We have seen it with Spygate, we have seen it with Bountygate, we have seen it with the player and referee lockouts; the league gets what it wants and stops at nothing to do so.
Up until now, the NFL has never appeared to be the bad guy to the majority. In Spygate, only Patriots fans were irate at the punishments, all other fans agreed. In Bountygate, generally it has been only Saints fans that disagree. During the lockout, the league made it seem as though the players' demands were outrageous, and they knew that the players were nothing without them. It was a battle they couldn't lose as long as they kept a pretty face, which they did. The majority of fans believed that Roger Goodell was "fighting the good fight", trying to do what's best for the safety and health of players while also maintaining and improving the league's integrity.
With this referee lockout, the league intended to make the real refs look like greedy dirtbags because the owners truly believed the idea of replacement officials could work. Finally, the once beautiful face of the NFL has dropped the facade and shown what lies beneath. Their plan for replacement officials has failed, and now every prohibitive action they have taken since Roger Goodell's tenure has been skewed out of their favor with the public and the media. They are finally being exposed for their tyranny.
Now everyone is questioning the league's underlying intentions for all of their once thought "proactive" movements. It's quite obvious that they are not concerned with health, safety, or integrity because otherwise they wouldn't continue to push for 18 regular season games or a team in London, or lock out highly trained professionals that do the actual work for what makes the billions of dollars in revenue. All along the NFL knew that it could get away with anything, and for now, they're right. They have managed to maintain a strong image for so long that fans can't look away. As football fans, we are slaves to the NFL. They can make whatever move they want and always get their way because they have us. Millions of people are not going to all of a sudden stay home on a Sunday and play Parcheesi, or much worse, bond with their family. They are going to watch football. The NFL kind.
The league had their way with the players because they knew that 99% of them would have trouble finding real work elsewhere; this is all the players really have. The league can have their way with the referees for the same reason, which is why even if a replacement referee shot and killed a player on the field, they would not budge on their stance with the old guys. And right now, the league has our minds. However, we are very different from the players and the referees. We do not financially depend on them, which gives us hope. And as George Orwell said in his novel 1984, "If there is hope... it lies in the proles."
The power to get the game we love back lies with us, the fans. We are the ones who really built this game. But, in the end, we are too far gone. Casual fans will continue to watch on Sundays, regardless of who's reffing the games. Perhaps over time the interest will trickle off and the league will lose ratings, but by then we will have forgotten about all of the treachery and will be drawn back in like a cobra to the charmer. Even still, I believe that we as fans can band together and fight to get our way. It may not work and it may not matter, but I know one thing, and it's that I love football. I love the Saints, and they're as big a part of my life as school or family or friends. It sounds silly, but it's true, you all here can admit to the same thing.
So, I'm going to do my part as a fan of the game of football and reluctantly turn my eyes from the tainted spectacle of weeks to come. Call me a hippie or an old fashioned rebel "fighting the power of The Man", so be it. It's something that I believe in. I don't want to be a slave to a multi-billion dollar organization that I help support, therefore until they do what I want, I won't give them what they want.
It's time we turn the tables on them, so I'll ask you, are you in?