On The Score Wednesday afternoon, Dan Bernstein and Laurence Holmes asked why it is that most people are siding with the owners in the dispute between players and owners that led to the NFL lockout. I have a theory on why this is.
I should preface this by telling you I side with the players in this dispute and I'll explain why at the end. Until then I'll attempt to delve into the psyche of the typical fan.
Most football fans are male and certainly the ones that are calling in to sports talk radio are. They've been saying things like (paraphrasing Bernstein here), "I make $15 an hour and work 40 hour weeks. I can't side with these greedy, spoiled players."
For the typical fan that grew up enjoying football it's easy to identify with the players as a general rule. As a Bear fan in the 70s I enjoyed pretending to be running backs Don Shy, Joe Moore, Jim Harrison, Ken Grandberry, Carl Garrett and (thank god) Walter Payton. As a kid, it's fun to say, "I'll catch it like Jerry Rice", "sack you like LT", "pass it like Elway", "show you mine like Favre", etc. No kid I know of ever said, "I'll own it like the Rooneys." No one identifies with the owners. Even though the more ambitious of us probably should have, or at least made it a goal to someday attempt to own a football team.
The funny thing this identification with the players continues to an extent as you grow older. Most of us realize at some age, or are told, that we're not good enough to play at a certain level whether it's high school, college or the pros. But we didn't give up our dream, it was taken away from us. So we think to ourselves, "If I was just a little faster, or a little taller, or a little stronger I could've played at the next level." We think we have some basic skills that a pro has.
I happen to think I have good hands and can catch really well. A lot of times when I see a receiver miss a catch I'll say, "He should've caught that!" and think to myself, "I would've caught that." As out of touch as that may be, I think it. Every time we criticize a mistake a player makes, particularly mental ones, many of us think, "If I was that player, I would not have made that mistake. I would know better."
So it continues with the lockout. We think, "If someone offered me what I make today to play professional football I'd do it. And certainly if someone paid me twice as much as I make today that would be amazing! Considering these guys make millions or at least several hundred thousand there's no way I'd give that up. These players are just greedy. They should go back to work. I would never give up that job." Which is what makes fans mad at the players. We wouldn't do that. We would know better than to risk a fun job like this where you make a lot of money to play a game.
The thing about that sentiment is that if we really were players we'd stand united with our teammates and peers. Because it's human nature to both stay in step with your peers and to keep what you have. And in this dispute the players aren't asking for anything except to keep things the way they are. The owners are trying to take away something the players fought for and the owners agreed to - mainly the owners are trying to take money off the top of the revenue sharing plan. While an individual player may indicate he isn't worth what he's getting paid, no one in any industry would say as a group, "Mr. Owner, we're all making too much money. Please cut our salary so you can pocket more profit." That wouldn't happen even if all current football players were replaced by fans. And, in this case, it shouldn't.