Friday, November 9, 2007

Maggie's Farm

I'm not saying it has never happened, but can anyone recall a baseball team treating a player like this:

The Minnesota Vikings have docked wide receiver Troy Williamson one game check for missing last Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers to attend the Monday funeral of his maternal grandmother . . .Coach Brad Childress told Twin Cities-area media following Thursday's practice that the decision was on a "business principle" of the Vikings organization . . . Childress cited the cases of two players, Minnesota defensive tackle Pat Williams and Indianapolis wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who appeared in games shortly after the deaths of family members.

Say what you will about MLB's often contentious relationship with the players, but at least there's a history there -- recently anyway -- informed by two powerful entities battling on more or less equal terms. What's more, once those battles subside, the acrimony tends to be pushed to the background, and the relationship tends to be a typical employer-employee affair. The owners generally treat the players with respect, and people tend to approach their jobs and their personal lives like adults.

In contrast, the NFL treats its players like indentured servants who should thank ownership and the league at every turn for being allowed the privilege of sacrificing their bodies and long-term health for the current TV deal. Ownership can terminate contracts on a whim while the players are stuck. Fines are routinely levied in such a way as to constitute ex-post facto laws. Players were, until very, very recently, punished for missing optional offseason workouts (and some have suggested that they are still punished for it). The pension system is atrocious, post-career health care for on-field injuries is a joke, and the life expectancy for ex-NFL players only looks good when compared to professional wrestling and coal mining.

There may be reasons for all of this -- how Gene Upshaw still has a job I have no idea -- but it all leads to a sport that can only be enjoyed by totally ignoring everything that happens off the field. And as I think this blog established a long time ago, I'm not the sort of person who can limit my consumption of a sport to the game itself.

Obviously all professional sports are big businesses, but it seems as though only the NFL routinely goes out of its way to remind us of this, eschewing even the pretense that it's just a game and its players are out there to have some fun. And even if it is just a pretense, I think it's an important one.

Who among us hasn't indulged the idyll fantasy of life as the 10th guy in the bullpen? Such daydreams aren't about the glory, obviously. They're about being around a game we love during a long but enjoyable season with all of the ups and downs that entails. About having a job so cool -- ballplayer! -- that you would wake up each morning excited to go to work. There's a humanity to baseball, its rhythms, its personalities and its rules that allow us to envy the guys who get to play it for reasons other than simply the paychecks and bottom-of-the-ninth heroic fantasies. Now ask yourself: whenever you hear about the off the field life of a random, workaday NFL player, do you ever wish you were him? An entire mythology has sprung up around the not-good-enough-to-make-it ballplayer. The NFL's version is a near-tragic drama.

I appreciate that this is a subjective judgment. Baseball is obviously my first sporting love, so I am predisposed to prefer almost anything about it to almost anything about football. But I would have to think that it's a problem for true football fans on some level too -- the thoughtful ones anyway -- and when your fans are troubled, how deep can their devotion truly be?

Am I off base here? Football fans: how do you deal with this stuff?


Grant said...

When I heard about this it ticked me off quite a bit. Your random office worker gets to take a few days off if one of his family members dies. If I'm Troy Williamson I do what he apparently did, tell them they can take as much money as they want, family is most important.

Seriously, the NFL is a league run by egomaniacs that even David Stern and Bud Selig can't hold a candle to.

I'm a huge football fan (baseball is first, though), and this, plus the ridiculously terrible pension system, is the worst part about the league.

Diesel said...

Ahhh, Shyster. It's 10 p.m. in the Vegas Airport, I'm drunk and flush out of cash, and in desperation I hope to see something that cheers me up.

And then I see you make a Bob Dylan/Specials reference (I prefer the latter's version) in the title of your most recent post.

God bless you, sir.

As for the contents of your post, there's been a little something brewing in me brains that I'll probably get around to putting to virtual copy on TGWNA one of these days. But I'm in no way capable of writing it right now.

Voros "Craig's Wife" McCracken said...

Forget about whatever Player vs. Owner BS has happened before, this is complete garbage.

Jesus, they have the largest rosters in American sports, you can't live without the guy for a practice?

Business my ass. This is alpha dog nonsense.

monroe says said...

Boo Hoo. what a sad story. I'm shocked! that the Neanderthals who play football are treated like ... ummm Neanderthals. If they have a problem with it maybe they could send some smoke signals to their "union."

Shyster said...

Monroe -- those "neanderthals" are people too, and unlike ballplayers, they all went to college, even if some of them only went for a little while.

My beef isn't with the players. I think they just have a brutal job that is made all the more difficult by an uncaring ownership and fanbase and an impotent and all but coopeted union.

They're the victims in this in my mind.

Gelbs said...

Anybody ever heard the Rage Against the Machine version? Regardless of your feelings on Rage, their Maggie's is pretty awesome.

Shyster said...

Gelbs -- while I don't think of myself as being that old, I am just old enough to where Rage is a band I could never get into. In fact, it was probably the first band (late 90s I'd guess) where I simply thought "confound that noise!" I'm not proud of that, but I have to speak the truth.

For me, Maggie's Farm is, was, and always will be Bob Dylan.

Grant said...

Gelbs (and i know this is late) - Can't stand Rage's Maggie's. I love Rage, but the whole Renegades album does little for me.

Dylan's is indeed superior.