It appears the National Football League could be headed towards a scenario that some might conceivably categorize as “Plaxico-esque”– referring to former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress who accidently shot himself in the leg last November. The NFL dominates the pro sports landscape in the United States, but if recent reports are any indication, a labor lockout that would derail the 2011 season is no longer merely possible; it’s probable. Perhaps the NFL can learn something from the recent misfortunes of Plaxico Burress, before it too makes a costly mistake.

Remember, Burress was on top before his now infamous incident, scoring the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII the prior season. Oh, how quickly things can change. Now, Burress faces possible jail time for criminal possession of a weapon in New York City, will almost certainly be disciplined (e.g., suspended) by the league, and currently remains unsigned after being released by the Giants earlier this year. In addition, the media circus surrounding the self-inflicted gunshot wound has spawned more negative press on issues unrelated to the incident. This post does not seek to pass moral judgment on Burress, but it is undeniable that the shooting incident last November has had a negative impact on him, both personally and professionally.

Similarly, the NFL reigns supreme as this country’s most popular professional sports league, and a lost season due to labor strife could jeopardize its current success. According to league sources, Pittsburgh Steelers QB Charlie Batch addressed the labor issues while speaking to the new class of NFL rookies earlier this month, and issued a warning that the chances of a lockout are “100 percent.” Just this week, representatives from the NFL Players’ Association are meeting with members of Congress to seek political support as negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement intensify.

Not surprisingly, money is at the heart of the disagreement between the two sides. In particular, it is the allocation of league revenues that seems to be the primary sticking point. Owners seek a more favorable deal than the current agreement, which gives the players roughly 60 percent of total revenues. The players, on the other hand, label the owners’ demands as greed. They cite the roughly $8 billion generated by the league each year, and point to the substantial growth in value of NFL teams over the past decade (estimated 14 percent annually). Whether the 2011 NFL season will actually be threatened remains to be seen, but the stakes are high. One need only to look at the other pro sports leagues that have suffered work stoppages–namely, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League–to see the detrimental effects that can linger even when play resumes. If there is a lesson to be learned from the Plaxico Burress drama, it’s that being at the top does not make you invincible.

Ethan Flatt

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