Phil Sheridan: For NFL, no limits to greed, hypocrisy

Posted: August 30, 2010

Give the NFL credit for this much. It doesn't let reason, fairness or logic stand in its way if there's an extra dollar to be made.

Remember the league that fought the state of Delaware's attempt to legalize sports betting? It is now the league that "partners" with state lotteries to separate hardworking citizens from their cash via NFL-themed scratch-off games. The Eagles announced their deal with New Jersey on Sunday - significant, because the weekend is usually a good time to slip potentially controversial news past people.

Remember the league that spent decades forcing season-ticket holders to purchase two "preseason" (never, ever "exhibition") games, at full price, as part of their package? It is now the league that cites concern about its fans when pitching the elimination of two preseason games in exchange for two more regular-season games.

OK, so you already knew NFL owners were breathtakingly greedy. So what's the point? Well, the point is that the league is relying on our short memories and outright ignorance as it runs these latest scams. Maybe we can't stop the current outrages, but calling the NFL out just might deter it from the next money-grubbing idea. Let this stuff slide without comment and eventually you'll have to pay a toll to get past Lincoln Financial Field on I-95.

The announcement about the new Eagles-themed lottery game in New Jersey stressed that revenues will benefit "schoolchildren, college students, and our state's veterans." That's clever, because it makes it seem being against such an endeavor means being against education and honorable treatment of our most deserving citizens. But the Eagles are involved in order to make some money for the Eagles.

(Why New Jersey and not Pennsylvania? Maybe Gus, the Second Most Famous Groundhog in Pennsylvania, is represented by Drew Rosenhaus. Next question.)

Plenty of NFL teams are doing this now. It is a new way to suck a few dollars out of a struggling economy. Better still, such revenues are not shared equally among all the teams, like TV and merchandise money. They go right into the bank.

It would just be another example of common greed if not for the galling hypocrisy. In Delaware, where the league would not get a slice of the profits, gambling was a blight on our society that led decent folk down the path toward moral ruin. Drive over the Commodore Barry Bridge and gambling is not only fun but virtuous. Buying an Eagles scratch ticket is practically your civic duty.

Give NFL commissioner Roger Goodell his due here. You think it's easy to hold two such contradictory ideas in your head without having it explode? It takes years of training.

Goodell is also the point man on the expansion from a 16- to an 18-game regular season. Following his lead, Jeff Lurie and other owners are talking up the benefit to the fans. After perpetrating consumer fraud by forcing these pretend games on their best customers all these years, the league suddenly cares deeply about them. Either that, or there's more money to be made.

The timing of this remarkable kindness is no accident. The owners voted last year to reopen their collective bargaining agreement with the players, setting up the very real possibility of a strike or lockout in 2011. For a year, the owners grumbled that they needed to cut the players' percentage of revenues. Now, lo and behold, the owners are leaning on the players to extend the season by two revenue-enhancing games.

As sleazy as it is to trumpet the "benefit" to fans, the real deception here is worse. The league is planning to extend the season, and by definition the wear and tear on players, as we are beginning to understand the long-term effects of the sport.

Concussions. Dementia. Arthritis. Chronic pain. Shortened life expectancy. Now doctors are exploring a possible link between brain trauma and ALS.

At a time we should be asking whether it is morally defensible to stage and support such a violent sport, NFL owners are asking players to wring a few million more dollars out of the TV networks by adding two weeks of wear and tear to each season.

Think about the owners' rationale, that they could offset the injury risk by expanding rosters and changing the injured-reserve rules. What they're really saying is that the solution to the attrition problem is to throw more bodies on the pile. The players are just that disposable.

Here's a guess. They're also just that gullible. The players will resist the extended season only long enough to get more money in the next CBA. They will remain in their own state of denial about the long-term implications of the game they play. They will continue to take more money now for pain and destitution later.

After all, why worry? They can always buy an Eagles lottery ticket.


Contact columnist Phil Sheridan

at 215-854-2844

or psheridan@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/philsheridan.

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