Anyone who remotely follows the NFL knows that the labor talks between the owners and the players took a negative turn when the NFLPA dercertified. This means that the labor dispute will be in the hands of litigators as players file an anti-trust lawsuit. It will be Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady teaming up to take down their bosses.
The typical reaction of an NFL fan is that of dismay towards both the millionaries and the billionaires. How can these two groups not divide the revenue of a business which brings in $9.3 billion every year? If this recession has forced people to take pay cuts and be humbled with new life situations, why should we show sympathy to greedy billionaires or greedy millionaires?
Sports radio analysts and broadcasters are split on this issue. Some (Doug Gottlieb) support the owners while others (Colin Cowherd) support the players. A tweet from Drew Brees on Friday garnered more sympathy for players as he announced his distrust of the owners who won’t be transparent with their financial books. The owners responded that such transparency is unwarranted in the history of professional sports in labor negotiations.
Then we have the two frontmen of this labor dispute, DeMaurice Smith and Roger Goodell. Neither one is directly affected in their paycheck by the outcome of the CBA. Rather, their position of power (or even their job) is in jeopardy with their constituents. They are both negotiating their first CBA, and neither one wants to come out the loser.
Who do you trust? The billionaires or the millionaires? The question is never easy to answer, and the sporting culture in America makes it even more difficult. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are seen as dishonest and non-transparent. Current players who embody integrity and decency such as Albert Pujols can’t come to a contractual agreement with the classiest organization in baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals. Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino have been caught lying through their teeth to the football world. Jim Tressel, one who preached faith and integrity in the cutthroat world of Big Ten football, has fallen in recent days.
This has led author Ted Kluck in his book The Reason for Sports: A Christian Manifesto to claim that perhaps Mike Tyson is one of the most transparent and truthful athletes in our day. Yes, Mike Tyson. You can trust Iron Mike to not have anything hiding in his closet.
It seems that the sports culture in America, as seen in the recent NFL labor dispute, suffers from not only a lack of transparency by both billionaires and millionaires but also from the illness of dehumanization. While both the players and the owners at first chimed that the dispute was “just business” we have seen each side “take things personally” in recent weeks. Feelings get hurt, and a deal doesn’t get done. Thousands of people who makes less than even six figures will suffer as their jobs are connected to the NFL.
While it is popular to claim that postmodernity has arrived, the NFL labor dispute shows we are still modern at heart. We still want to put on the facade that certain things are “just business” and thus erect the public/private dichotomy. We simpletons don’t understand the complexity of the financial structures that NFL owners deal with, so we are to trust their view of what the ‘market’ dictates. (Did you hear that, Brees and Manning?) Modernity made us ‘less than human’ in comparison to how the pre-modern era thought of humanity. Dehumanization is still among us.
As Christians, we don’t necessarily abandon the value of the free market or the importance of putting hurt feelings and petty differences aside to do good business. This isn’t an argument for anything quasi-socialistic (Sorry, Dr. Trueman). Yet, even Christians who prefer economic liberty should also give preference to a “cosmic personalism.” The universe doesn’t run on strict numbers so that the shrewdest and cleverest billionaire wins every time and at any cost. Rather, the cosmos contains persons who are holistically human. They are endowed with potential virtue made in the image of God, and such a state of affairs requires more than minimalistic business ethics. We are required to give each other their due as those created in the very image of the Creator.
Let the litigation begin.