Striking pro football players get little sympathy from this corner

Right, wrong, or I'll take vanilla, I'm tired of professional athletes going on strike. Most of pro football's striking players don't know what the real world is like or how fortunate they are financially.

In an economy that is currently punting from behind its own goal line, most pro players can still make the down payment on a $200,000 house. You should see the in-season parking lot of the Los Angeles Rams, for example. It looks like a Mercedes-Benz dealership.

I'm not against unions. They came about because they were needed, and anyone who has read a history book knows where the nation's coal miners would be without them. But it's hard to have much sympathy for a man who makes an average of $83,000 for approximately seven months' work and travels first class.

Oh, you'll hear players complain all the time that because of relatively short careers, they have only a few years during which to command six-figure salaries.

Well, I'll bet the person reading this is a lot like me. That is, he'd be happy to have just one year at $100,000 per, and you can give his Super Bowl check to charity.

The problem is that nobody wants to watch me play tunes on a typewriter; or the chef labor over a hot stove; or the produce driver unload his truck at 4 a.m. But pro football sells because it's a unique form of macho enterainment.

The key strike issue, of course, is more money for the players. The amazing part is the players' original demand for 55 percent of the National Football League's gross eanings for the next four years. Now the strikers are merely asking for $1.6 billion in cash over the same period.

None of these men can be naive enough to think pro football is anything except a business. Asking the owners for part of the store is the same as auto employee asking for a piece of Chrysler or General Motors.

I'm not saying the players don't have the right to go for a raise, or an increase in meal money, or retirement benefits. But when you ask for something that belongs to someone else, that's going too far.

Certainly most pro football owners are millionaires many times over. And under today's huge television contracts, they are assured of tremendous amounts of money before the season even starts.

But they are also the ones taking the long-term risks. Their payrolls are not small; they have a stadium and training facilities to maintain; scouts don't come cheaply; and they also spend a lot of money promoting their business.

Most successful businessmen or large companies make lots more money than their employees, which is something the players can't or won't understand.

There was a time when a man had to be president or chairman of a board of a major corporation to earn $300,000 a year. Now, if he's got the ability to throw a football, catch one, or run with one better than most of his peers, or be able to prevent someone else from doing this, he can earn double that amount. Even linemen today don't have to worry about where their next Cadillac is coming from.

When you stop to think of it, pro football players as a group ought to be extremely grateful that there is a league where they can showcase their wares, because it's a cinch their skills are out of place on Wall Street and most other places of business.

In fact, if most football players are anything like the striking baseball players of the summer of 1981, then I doubt if three in ten understand the issues. Many of them are afraid not to strike because of peer pressure, and still more will follow anyone who waves a dollar sign in front of them.

As for the angry fan who says he'll never spend another dime on pro football - forget it! He'll be back, because games have always been a relief for people who hate their way of making a living; need to get away from the house on weekends; or can't stand yard work.

Regardless of when or how this strike ends, the player will come out with more money and benefits than he had before.

Naturally the cost is going to be passed on to the fan, either in the form of increased ticket prices or higher costs for the products of companies who advertise on NFL network television - or both.

The football fan will grumble, of course, but he'll pay! He'll also forget his objections the first time two players on opposite teams go up in the air in the end zone in pursuit of a $32 pigskin.

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