NFL owners' best move is to keep players healthy

This is a great time of year for football fans. During the day on Sundays there are usually two or three National Football League games from which to choose, another on Sunday nights, another on Monday nights, and this year every Thursday night the giants of the gridiron clash.

College football is also in full swing. Fridays and Saturdays these usually unpaid would-be professionals line up to pound on each other and grind out the yardage in hopes of catching the eyes of a scout and a national championship.

High school football is the second step in the ascension to the pros. Many of these games are also televised and are played nearly everywhere. The first step is, in some cases, middle school.

Early on most of the youngsters, including a few girls, play for the fun of the game. The better and larger they get, the bigger the stars in some eyes become. Soon the game changes to a quest. The end zone is the NFL.

Of course, there is more to enjoy than just the play on the field. It just takes a little looking.

For example, with nearly everyone keeping track of the most obscure things, the statistics the commentators offer before, during and after contests are as varied as there are imaginations. In one recent game I was informed of the number of times a particular team was outscored in the first quarter. I also learned the highest point differential during any quarter of any game through Week 11 of the season. Perhaps these things are important to all of those fantasy league team “owners.”

The most intriguing statistic paraded for viewers during that same game was the one that showed the longest amount of time a team went during a game without the lead. Who thinks of these questions and then does the research to find out?

Another interesting area is the justified and growing concern about all the injuries in professional football, some of which might occur with all the head slaps and pile-on celebrations that follow touchdowns. Professional football players weigh upward of 250 pounds. Equipment has been so dramatically improved as to imbue a false sense of invincibility. As a result, frequently there are collisions involving more than a quarter ton of mass. Add that some of those collisions are between two people running at full speed, and injury is inevitable. Yet the players continue to collide, frequently playing through pain as a sort of manly pride thing.

This year there is a new complaint. With a Thursday night game every week and an agreement that no team will have a week off after a midweek game, each group of players must return to gridiron action at least once with just three days off.

Some players have been critical of this, though it most certainly was addressed in the recently approved collective bargaining agreement. The concern by these guys is that three days between games is not enough and that it is the owners who forced this, concerned not with player safety but with dollars.

It is inevitable. Employee groups generally complain about employers until they become employers themselves.

Of course the owners are interested in the bottom line. So are nearly all the players who are frequently heard saying they beat themselves up on the football field for love of the game. For most that’s probably true, but they don’t do it for free. It's hypocritical when players complain about the owners wanting more money while demanding a bigger share through the NFL Players Association.

As for the owners, their bottom line is tied directly to the ability of the players to go to work. It would be oxymoronic to ignore the physical welfare of such expensive tools of commerce.

The least a player in the NFL receives is about $350,000 a year. That’s the bottom of the pay structure for rookies. New multimillion-dollar contracts are announced every year.

It is in the best interest of the NFL owners to keep the “merchandise” that collects that money healthy. Otherwise, those who watch those herculean collisions and amazing athletic abilities won’t, the advertisers who pay huge amounts of money won’t, and the cash flow will tick away as quickly as the time clock at the end of a game when the team with the lead has the ball.

Hawkins is retired after 35 years as a construction industry association manager. He was a broadcast reporter and news anchor in Denver. As a Navy officer, he saw action in Vietnam in the River Assault Squadrons and is the recipient of a Silver Star and Purple Heart. He can be reached at

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