By: Eric Thomas
When the NFL awarded $766 million to retired players last week, the sports opinion machine broke into two tribes, and both have been sniping at each other on the internet. One side of the argument favors players getting the money; their reasons seem guided by empathy. The other side takes the tact that the players are owed nothing, because they accepted the inherent danger of a game where helmets and shoulder pads are often as missiles on the open field of play.
The sides agree—football is a dangerous game, but that’s where the agreement ends. Those who think players don’t deserve compensation tend to bring up player salaries early in the discussions. These men are rich, and they can afford to pay their own way.
Football players put themselves in harm’s way for our entertainment. Agony is met with the sound of a thousand claps. The list of maladies is voluminous. Players often suffer broken bones, shredded ligaments, along with other injuries so gruesome that they cause grown men to drop to a knee and bow their heads. Many of them don’t get superstar salaries. Some men’s careers have vanished during a preseason game and limp for the rest of their lives on their own dime.
It’s easy to be jealous of athletes. They’re treated like Gods by men and women alike. They float above the rest of us in the minds of many fans. An average person would probably like having fans. It must be cool. For many of us, that jealousy translates into a shrug when we hear that their lives will be significantly shorter. It probably seems like a fair trade when it isn’t you.
Football is a dangerous game, yet they took the risk anyway. For your entertainment. You clapped and pumped your fist for them. That role player whose name you barely know may have been the crucial block on that last second field goal. You called your friends. Your fantasy team won the week.
Football is a dangerous game, and that’s exactly why these guys should be taken care of. For everyone who steps onto the gridiron, there should be a minimum. At a minimum, the league should take care of their medical costs. If you buttoned that helmet, you should expect to be taken care of.
That’s not saying the players should live in luxury’s lap, on a bloated pension where 19 year-old nymphs hang grapes over their lips while carried on a litter. They should get health costs covered. They put themselves on the line, and they shouldn’t have to worry about when they need another hip or anti-anxiety pills.
If you’re arguing that the players should get nothing, it’s really hard to find the logic. Who benefits? You get a small shot of pleasure from denying something to someone? You, with your health benefits, get to have something that they don’t? Someone who develops severe arthritis in his 40s should suffer because he had more fun in his 20s and 30s than you did? How does that help anything? The owners get slightly richer than they were yesterday? Do they pass that cost savings on to the ticket purchaser?
Think of how you felt when College Football kicked off this year. It’s a moment of pure joy that you can’t quite get anywhere else. We all had smiles on our faces. Just for a moment, before you cynically deride a settlement that won’t cost you a thin red dime, remember who’s sacrificing their safety to make you cheer.