Scott Ostler

Key to the Strike for All Parties Is to Grin and Bear It

September 24, 1987|Scott Ostler

No, that wasn't God weeping Wednesday morning, mourning the opening day of the NFL's midseason preseason training camp.

I suspect He has more important matters to look in on these days, like famines and baseball pennant races. What we got in Los Angeles was just a regular rainstorm.

No owners, players, scabs or fans were struck by lightning, so apparently the man upstairs isn't taking sides yet, either.

We're on our own, then, and we might as well settle in and enjoy the world's strangest strike, during which several things are sure to happen.

For starters, the striking players will become scab-ball fans, out of necessity. The Rams' destiny, for instance, will be in the hands of the Ramscabs. If the Ramscabs become a scab dynasty for two or three games, the real Rams will benefit enormously when the strike is settled.

A bad scab team can knock your real team out of the box before the real players ever lace up another cleat.

Therefore, the better a team pickets, the more threatening and intimidating they are walking the line, the better their chances of going back to work in last place.

The players can't admit this, but it will be much to their benefit to let the best ringer-scabs slip through the picket line. If I were the Ram strikers, for instance, I would send my toughest, most violence-prone picketers to San Francisco to walk the 49ers' line, in a gesture of brotherhood.

In New York, there will be unrest on the Giants' picket line, as book publishers put pressure on the team's several author-athletes.

It's bad enough for book sales when you start your season 0-2. But when you're 0-2 and on strike, there aren't many people clamoring to read the Lawrence Taylor memoirs.

Someone will explain to the players that the free agency demand isn't worth dying for, not if free agency means simple freedom to choose where you work. The President of the United States isn't a free agent. His job is specialized. If he wants to be a president of a nation, he's pretty much limited to living and working in downtown Washington.

Generally speaking, the more specialized, highly skilled and highly paid your job, the more limited your choices. If you're a crackerjack rocket scientist, your choice of home teams is limited to the Pasadena JPL and one or two other teams, unless you want to jump countries.

Being forced to spend a few winters of one's life in Buffalo or Philadelphia for $300,000 per winter ranks extremely low on the public sympathy scale.

If players want freedom to work anywhere they wish, they might consider switching careers, to something like restroom maintainance.

Besides, if free agency is so valuable, why did the players sell it back to the owners when the courts gave it to them last time?

Someone will sit the owners down and explain to them that they are expendable. According to the Jim Bouton Theory, owners are as vital to pro sports as valet parking at the stadium.

What would happen if the players on one team pooled their resources, bought the team and divided up the profits? Or if a city bought a team and ran it as a nonprofit organization?

Whatever profits would normally go to the owner would be divided up among the players. Salaries, and therefore team morale and performance, would soar sky-high. Owners as we know them today would soon become extinct.

The scab games will be enormously entertaining . . . to the striking players. Games will tend to look like football blooper shows. Plays will be drawn in the huddle, in the dirt. Coaches will slam a lot of headsets to the turf. Most team meetings will begin with, "This is a football . . . "

Play will be either incredibly sloppy or profoundly boring, or both. In other words, the games will be exactly like the negotiating sessions.

In the end, the settlement will be a matter of supply and demand. If fans demand pro football and the owners and players don't supply it, the fans will take their business to another store.

Is that the World Series I hear around the corner? College football? NBA and NHL training camps?

We'll all keep busy, and you owners and players let us know when you're ready to come out and play.

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