An NFL Lockout In 2011 Could Be The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Football

The NFL Players Association and the NFL owners have once again resumed negotiations over a new CBA, but even after last week's extension helped both sides avoid a lockout, a deal is still a longshot. And maybe that's for the best.

Nate Jackson is a former-NFL player that's done work for Deadspin, Slate, and the New York Times, and this weekend, he had a piece in the Wall Street Journal that raised some interesting points. First of all, he explains that NFL players don't know how to live without the hands-on team personnel guiding them through the basic mechanics of off-field business.

Jackson argues this perpetuates immaturity among players, and a lockout would force them to evolve. And maybe he's right, but the NFL's logic still makes sense. They want to protect their million-dollar investments, and if my experience is any indication, every 20-something in the world could use a personnel director to help them through the basics of adulthood.

Still, the spirit of Jackson's point hits home regardless; the NFL players could use some introspection. To help them appreciate what it's like to live a normal life, and to help them learn how to function without constant NFL oversight. You know, like actual adults.

There's also the health concerns that, for now, are being pushed to the side during the negotiations. The NFLPA's paying lip service to player safety issues, but if reports out of Washington are to be believed, the real haggling centers around revenue sharing. That's fine, but it misses the point.

Right now, the prospect of losing employment and profits feels imminent, but it pales in comparison to the bigger cloud hanging over NFL players and their future. Or, it should.

Jackson highlights the health issue here:

An extended lockout could also have a positive effect on the long-term prospects of health care in the NFL. For a player, everything about the NFL is temporary except the damage being done to the body and brain. That's permanent. The union leadership would have time during a work stoppage to address these health concerns, which weigh heavily on the minds of players and their families.

But more than anything else, it's the ideas underpinning Jackson's essay that resonate the most. I've been silently rooting for an NFL lockout all along. Not because I don't like football, and definitely not because I'm rooting for some neanderthal like Jerry Richardson, but because there are some major issues that have gone ignored for way too long.

Jackson talks about players taking a step back and examining their lives. He talks about the players association giving  the safety issues a closer examination. And really, it's a good point for all of us. We should all take a step back and think about the way pro football operates.

For instance: Why does it make sense that the NFL makes more money than any league in American sports, but its players make a fraction of what baseball and basketball players earn? Shouldn't we be concerned that the most dangerous sport in America--and again, the most profitable--doesn't see fit to give players' long-term health insurance? With the NFL winning better than any league on earth, who are the losers? And if the NFL doesn't exist for a year, what will the rest of us (fans, players, networks, stadium workers) do with ourselves?

They're all good questions, and ordinarily, we'd be right in the middle of free agency right now, and the world of football would be too busy to care about the answers. Then there would be the NFL Draft, and then minicamp, and then training, and... On and on.

But the NFL Lockout gives us an opportunity to pause, and even if Jackson concedes it's wishful thinking that anyone will think about this stuff at all, it's still the best hope yet that the NFL can actually erase some of the asterisks next to all the record-setting numbers.

So... We can dream, right? That the NFL might finally commit to player safety and long-term insurance. That when players confront real life on their own, they might realize how lucky they are to be living with an NFL safety net that normal people never get. Or just the same, that owners will realize how much money they're not making during a lockout, and they'll see how great they've got it under the current CBA, and how lucky they are to be paying stars so little.

An honest look in the mirror is always a good idea for anyone, but particularly for a league that's seen more growth and change than just about any business on earth over the past decade.

So that could be the silver lining in all this. I mean, it's definitely wishful thinking, but in a battle that's starting to look hopeless from every angle, we may as well take comfort in naivete. If a lockout has to happen, then let's hope it prompts some reflection.

After all, none of the NFL's problems have hindered the league's growth that past few years. Pressing pause on all of it might just be the only thing that can. And one day, we might look back on the NFL's Worst Case Scenario and say it was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to football.

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