NFL lockout should draw more concern

By Greg Trietley

Am I the only person who realizes there’s an NFL lockout?

An update about the labor strife… Am I the only person who realizes there’s an NFL lockout?

An update about the labor strife sputters out every few days, and the media reports it as some major breakthrough. But after the television correspondents sign off from a courtroom in Minneapolis or from a players-only workout at a high school, the lockout — one with no end in sight — becomes a footnote.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports asked in a column this week if a team will “take a flyer on” Plaxico Burress, who was released from prison on Monday. The column compared Burress to fellow jailbird Michael Vick, mused about his personality and worried about his age (33), but there was one thing it didn’t mention — the lockout that prevents Burress from signing with any team.

That’s a glaring omission in an article asking if someone will sign him.

It’s a sign of the unspoken rule in sports coverage over the past few weeks: If we pretend it’s not there, the lockout, for now, goes away.

Yahoo! Sports opened the 2011 version of its fantasy football game to registration last week. You can read expert debate on whether or not Roddy White is a better draft option than Calvin Johnson, but they’re both looking at a zero-catch September.

And although several major publications, ESPN and USA Today included, quietly pushed back the release of their fantasy preview magazines, plenty are still available on newsstands.

My fantasy advice: If there’s a season to draft Bubba Franks, who hasn’t stepped on the gridiron in two years,  make it this one.

The biggest culprit of this lockout charade was the NFL Draft. It gave us the illusion that everything would be fine. The commissioner shook hands with each draftee, who sported his new team’s jersey and cap. Same as always. Nothing had changed, right?

Well, players can’t sign with the teams that drafted them, and good luck to any franchise that wants to trade one of them. In the meantime, we have videos of players trying to open the locked glass doors of team facilities. The look they give — “What’s going on?” meets “I’m a sad puppy looking for a home” — is more entertaining than any football game.

The lockout is currently a postscript tacked on to every story, and nothing more.

Tampa Bay will cut Aqib Talib … when the lockout ends. The Bears and Buccaneers will play in London this season … unless the lockout extends past August 1. The NFL will implement new rules to crack down on flagrant hits … eventually.

Coverage of the lockout itself has focused on court proceedings during which the players association argues that the labor conflict hurts its feelings, is unconstitutional and assassinated Kennedy, or something like that. If the players win and a judge ends the lockout, football returns, right?

That’s naive thinking. The courtroom arguments between the NFL and the NFLPA are more divorce court than marriage counseling. A judge can give the players leverage, but a judge won’t write a new collective bargaining agreement, which the league, well, sort of needs.

But Miami Dolphins ticket packages are on sale now!

It’s important to remember that unless you’re a team employee laid off because of this ordeal, the lockout hasn’t affected you yet. No one cares about offseason workouts or the rookie symposium. And really, preseason games won’t be missed either.

It will take the (scheduled) first week of the regular season before it sinks in. Imagine the horror at 1:03 p.m. on Sept. 8. You sit down to watch the Steelers at the Ravens, but it’s not there. In its place: motocross. Get it off! Get it off! Maybe the game’s on a different network? Oh, now it’s a cooking show.

Meanwhile, football players will fall from the limelight. We care about Terrell Owens because he scores touchdowns, or at least used to. Without football, he’s just another guy trying to cram a 300-character thought into a 140-character tweet.

As the lockout extends into winter and the well of labor news runs dry, sports television will devolve into talking heads repeating the same trite expressions over and over, and then the network looping that segment over and over. Kind of like the NBA Finals coverage.

For fans, Sundays will become productive. Compacted couch cushions will find time to heal. Arm rests will slowly degrease.

Other sports will gain transient viewers. Suddenly, Pitt football will have a bandwagon, forged from iron and painted black and gold. Even the United

Football League will find a fan. Movies, museums, symphonies and plays all will see increased attendance. Seven billion dollars in annual NFL revenue will go elsewhere, which gives both sides an urgency to reach a deal.

Until then, it’s like the lockout isn’t even here.