In a column last year I established why baseball is superior to basketball. I wanted to write this column on 3-5 reasons why baseball is better than (ice) hockey but I couldn’t get it down to below about 47 reasons, so I’m training my sights on (American) football in its NFL guise instead.
So here goes: three reasons (in no particular order) why the most popular sport in America is not as good as baseball:
I’ll get the serious point out of the way first. The NFL isn’t risky like paragliding is risky. No, in the NFL you get seriously hurt as a matter of routine. The problem – and the reason there’s been no outcry until recently, is that a lot of those serious injuries don’t become very obvious until players reach their 40’s or 50’s, by which time many of them are crippled and/or suffering mental illness.
One commentator in trying to think of solutions to the problem, recently proffered a couple of Band-Aid non-solutions and capped it off by saying that they didn’t need to “resort” to going without helmets.
That’s the issue right there. The problem is sorted – immediately and for ever, by getting rid of helmets. But instead, the NFL persists in giving the players equipment that is one part protection and two parts weapon, and then telling them not to use it. And if you think that’ll make the game too namby-pamby, try watching a game of Rugby Union – those guys hit hard, but without helmets and consequently, without long-term brain damage.
So in this sense, never mind baseball – every sport outside of boxing is superior to the NFL.
2. Length of the season
American football must be the worst value sport in the world for a fan as a lifetime experience. With the exceptions of college football and Russian roulette, no other sports give you less opportunity to watch your favourite players, with only 16 regular season games (17 when Commissioner Goodell gets his way).
Major League Baseball teams play 162 games in their regular season, with longer pre-season and postseason schedules. Supporting a baseball team is an entire lifestyle, whereas NFL fandom is just a series of hype cycles preceded by an off-season lasting two-thirds of the year.
In fact, the NFL off-season is the only reason I can think of why anyone outside Canada watches (ice) hockey. It’s all frustrated NFL fans who can’t cope with the eight months of nothing happening.
3. Holdouts/non-guaranteed contracts
I used to think that players who held out, who went on strike because they wanted to be paid more money were more or less the lowest form of life, at least in the sporting world. After tall, they signed their contracts of their own free will, so who did they think they were trying to blackmail their employers into tearing up that contract and giving them more money?
But the problem is not the players, or the non-guaranteed contracts, it’s the sport. Because players get injured a lot and owners don’t want to be on the hook for a bunch of injured players with long-term contracts. So, if you are in year two, let’s say, of a five year deal and your knee gets turned into mulch after a 320lb lineman lands on it, your team can release you at the end of the season and not owe you a cent more.
This forces the players – and of course their agents – to have a financial planning horizons no further than the end of the current season, and to negotiate as if the next season is their last season.
Baseball on the other hand? All contracts are guaranteed and no players ever go on strike, so I don’t have to worry if my favourite players are even going to be there at the start of the season, and I’m not tempted to resent them for wanting four million dollars a year rather than just the one.
All that having been said, as a Miami Dolphins fan (I was a kid, I liked dolphins…bad choice…why couldn’t I have liked steel mills or patriotic people more than dolphins?), I am bracing myself to enter fully into the (short) season-long experience of pain and suffering that awaits my team.
On the plus side of course, none of the Dolphins players are good enough to hold out for better contracts, so at least there’s none of that kind of drama.