The Talking Dog

September 23, 2012, Play ball

For the third consecutive try, I failed to reach the 26.22 mile marathon standard in a 6-hour race at yesterday's Staten Island Six Hour (somewhat ironic, as I usually, albeit not always, complete marathons in well under six hours). Anyway, in my first try at a six hour race in 2010, I intentionally ended my day slightly early, knowing that my fall season would consist of two other marathons and a 50-miler that year. No such excuse this year, but my winter medical maladies have evidently resulted in some weight gain which I haven't been able to shake; I went into yesterday's race near a life-time high weight, at around 199 lbs. This morning, it looks like 194 lbs.... I'll probably go out again in a few minutes and jog for an hour or two... I need some preparation for next month's Midwest state capital double, the Indianapolis and Columbus marathons on the same weekend (logistically, some doubling is the only conceivable way I'll get to 50 states). Anyway, I'm not a fast runner, nor particularly interesting to watch, nor, quite frankly, are these "time races", where a few dozen people circle a loop of a city park competing simply for the most mileage. But it's not really about watching... it's about doing.

Which takes us to a story about watching: the Grey Lady's take on NFL replacement referees: they may be costing the game it's entertainment value. NFL football is more than our national sport (in terms of viewership and fan interest, anyway)... it's arguably our national religion. People seem to take their football more seriously than just about anything else... including, well, politics, religion, their families, or their health, for example. Which is why, as the Times piece observes, television ratings for football are so strong. Which is why advertising rates are so high. Which is why the National Football League's decision to lock-out its referees
is arguably such a dangerously short-sighted one, and yet, so quintessentially American... that the American business practice is always-- always as in 100% of the time-- to risk the goodwill of customers and the quality of the product and hence the long term viability of the business itself-- for the opportunity to stick it to interloping workers who might just want a slightly larger slice of the pie.

In the NFL context, this is dangerous because [American] football, especially at its professional and premier college ranks, has been designed for the American attention span: fast moving, exciting bursts of energy [usually replete with violence and occasional poor sportsmanship], with a constant rhythmic flow until the next beer or automobile commercial. And the NFL's professional (albeit part-time) referees fully understand what it takes to move the game along-- when to throw the flag, when to overlook a transgression that may technically be a foul but will more likely simply foul up the flow of the game. The sort of thing that comes from... wait for it... experience.

NFL franchises are worth hundreds of millions of dollars or more despite only having eight home dates a year because of the television value: to risk screwing that up over a seemingly minor money dispute with a comparatively inexpensive, but clearly important component of the game... seems dumb... football's short experiment with "replacement players" wasn't a particularly successful idea. Fans recognized a reduction in the quality of "their entertainment experience"... and labor peace was quickly restored. One assumes something similar will happen with the referee lockout.

One does not assume, however, that the long-term trend toward the eventual death of "employment" as a model for economic organization in this country will end (despite the "headline unemployment" figures, workforce participation rates, full-time employment and real wages continue the decline they have been on for decades), even as a variety of factors from things like health insurance costs (even before "Obamacare") and the coming "fiscal cliff" promise to drive the cost of enterprises hiring people for employment to be even higher. Anyway... long-term trends... not good. One wonders why the NFL didn't simply fire the refs and hire them back as "consultants." Possibly they are too visible.

Which is pretty much all that's happening here: we are watching a trend that's been playing out for a long time (called "the worker is the enemy.") We are only noticing because of the context of our nation's most popular sport. While one hopes that this is a useful opportunity to consider the broader trend... Gotta go! The game's on!

Update (9/27/12): On cue, after the replacement refs evidently made a disastrous call costing the vaunted Green Bay Packers a game against the not vaunted Seattle Seahawks, just as with the players' lockout of yore featuring "replacement players" the fans quickly tired of and settled... after... three weeks... it seems... a tentative deal has suddenly been reached. The economy as a whole is still in the crapper, folks... we'll need to cling to our national religion (that would be football)... perhaps more than usual...