* ed note: this is a cross post from my ‘what I am reading’ page. It began as a book review, but crossed into so much more I thought it should stand alone as it’s own thing.
Let’s talk about football for a bit, shall we? I love football. Love love love it! I am also torn, however. I am torn because the NFL is an evil organization, for many reasons. They treat their players poorly. Did you know NFL players have no health insurance after they retire? Yet… Ford employees do. The NFL makes 8 Billion dollars a year, and they are a ‘non-profit 501C’ charity. This means they don’t pay a penny in taxes. In fact, quite the opposite; every football stadium in the US is paid for with paxpayer dollars. Charity, my ass! They pay no taxes and they pay for no health care. They are mean to the players and they are mean to the fans. More specifics? How about the black out rules? If a team doesn’t sell out all the tickets in the stadium for a home game… the NFL forbids that game from being on TV in that market.
For example – San Diego Chargers rarely sell out their games. So, that means you also don’t get to watch them at home on Sundays. The NFL does this to force you to go see the game in person. Yeah, that is a treat for sure – $40 parking, $100 seats (that is face value for the worst seats) $6 water, $8 beer. When the game is over, you have to navigate home with 60,000 fellow drivers… all of whom are also wasted. No thanks, I’ll watch at home.
Another example? Ok. Last month RG3 was not playing. It was a pre-season game, and he was still dealing with an injury. BEFORE the game, which was NOT regular season, he wore a shirt on the field made by a company other than Nike. Nike, you see, has an illegal monopoly with the NFL. All players HAVE to wear Nike clothes, and only Nike clothes. I can call it a monopoly because the Supreme Court already did. Well, for wearing a tshirt that wasn’t Nike, before a game, a pre-season game, a game he wasn’t playing in… he got a $10,000 fine. Some fucking charity that is.
So, with that said, I still really love football. An analogy would be my love of music and my feelings towards Ticketbastard. One has nearly ruined the other, but it is what it is. Football joyfully consumes a ton of my time. I play in a couple different fantasy leagues, and all that jive. I watch football games, I watch shows about football games. I study about it, and I am more than happy to talk about it for hours with total strangers. More importantly, I am fascinated by the life of a football player outside the game. I wanna know about the minutia of being a football player. Is it weird to go to McDonald’s because people stare at you? Do you have trouble fitting in beds and cars and clothes because you are so ginormous? What did it do to your relationships? Stuff like that is what I like to know about, same with musicians.
Several books below, I talked about the really great Stefan Fatsis book called ‘a Few Seconds of Panic’. I very highly recommend that book. This book, so far, is a similar tale about the NFL told from the inside. Here is what I have learned so far. For the players – football isn’t about the smell of the grass on game day. It’s not about taking the ball 70 yards for the game winning touchdown. It’s not about signing the football for that little crippled boy who says you are his hero. Yeah, I know it says that on the back of every dust jacket.
Playing in the NFL is about pain. Constant pain every waking minute from the time you are about 18 on. You think to yourself ‘cry me a river, these guys have the best doctors on earth taking care of them!’. Well… yes and no. They do have the best doctors and the best everything money can buy. But no, they are not treating the players. Why? Because the players are afraid to tell anyone they are hurt. if you are hurt, you get benched. Your ‘toughness’ is questioned, and you get cut in the offseason. So, you play hurt always and never tell anyone. You also say “but Lono, these guys are getting millions to play a playground game, cry me a river!”. Yeah, they are. However, these guys are also retired and unemployable by age 30. They are also broke and addicted to painkillers. Every single one of them. Well, except the 12 guys on television. There is no pension or health care for players.
I don’t blame that all on the NFL. I also blame the players union who doesn’t do dick for them, but takse their money. Remember when Homer was briefly president of the employee’s union at the nuclear plant? In negotiations with management, he traded their health care for a keg of beer. The saddest part was the workers were stoked they got one over on management. I blame the young dumb poor 20 year kids who spend 5 million a year like they are going to be making that for the next 20 years. The league actually does try and coach and warn these kids about money issues. But, you can’t tell a 20-year-old kid shit. He ain’t listening. He especially ain’t listening’ if he is a newly minted millionaire and has been dirt poor all this life. He especially ain’t listening’ if a bunch of super rich old white guys are telling him what to do… when in his eyes most of all his problems have been caused by super rich old white guys.
Per the Fatsis book, I learned the average NFL career is 2.5 years. Of course, every player thinks they will be the exception. Think of that. You are done FOR LIFE by 30 years old. It comes against your will. It is the one thing you did well all your life, and the only thing you ever truly cared about… and it is taken away. Imagine if you told me at 30 I could no longer cook, or screw, or play guitar, for the rest of my life. I just really started getting good at that stuff at 30. Imagine if my company came to my desk at 30 and fired me… and no one else would hire me. Imagine if I came to work every day, and there were three guys in the office looking for MY job. The only way any of those three guys gets to keep their job is if I screw up at work or hurt myself. Can you imagine that pressure? Let’s be even more specific. I work in customer service, so I handled escalated and very visible customer complaints. Last month I had one that I just blew. Totally my fault, I spaced out calling the customer back. Plus, I am 41. Guess what, in sports, that would have been my ass. I would unemployed, and unemployable.
I know this is all very negative, and doesn’t sound like a guy who loves football. But, to love something you must understand and appreciate all of it’s aspects. Like a marriage, you have to understand and live with its faults. This is how I feel about football. It is complex, and often horrible… but I live for it.
Lucky for me, this guy Nate Jackson, like Fatsis below, was a Denver Bronco. So, I get the added bonus of not just learning about the NFL’s culture… I get a peek inside my beloved home team. Here is a small example of what I am poorly trying to explain – I am about 20 pages in so far, and the author talks about ‘the Greek’ a ton. He says ‘the Greek’ is the team trainer/doctor. Now, if I wasn’t a Broncos fan, I would have no idea what or who he is talking about. But, I do. ‘the Greek’ is long time beloved team trainer Steve Antonopolous. So, knowing the Broncos like I do helps. Yeah, I know our team trainer by his name, AND his nickname. Do you know that much about your football team? Of course you don’t.
So, I am very excited this book. I know it will be about the smell of the grass on a game day Sunday morning. I know it’s gonna be about free drinks and pussy wherever he goes. I know it’s gonna be about teamwork and camaraderie and running seams and patterns. Mostly, though, I know it’s gonna be about pain. Not just the physical pain… but that day when he was probably about 27 years old and the assistant coach called him and said he’d been cut. The one thing you have been working towards every single day of your life since you were ten years old… you will never ever get to do again. Worst of all, it is almost never on your own terms.