*The NFL is engaged in a labor dispute pitting the players versus the owners.
In the next year the three other major team sports leagues in the country, MLB, NBA, & NHL will also have labor issues. And at the end of each dispute fans will side with ownership putting pressure on the players to settle. Because professional athletes never win a public relations battle. Here are four reasons why.
REASON 1: Professional athletes are the visible component of sports. When fans are upset because their favorite team isn’t doing well they don’t blame the scouting department or the assistant coaches. Most of the time fans have no idea if those folks have been successful in their day to day tasks. The players, on the other hand, receive almost all the blame because fans can see when a player misses an assignment. Fans then blame players for most if not all the negative things about their favorite teams. As a result fans have a hard time tolerating the same players they perceive as always making mistakes asking for a better labor deal.
REASON 2: There are many opportunities for fans to critique players performance because many of the players are young and prone to mistakes. The athletes playing professional sports are often in their 20s and still maturing into professionals. That is to say they rather go out on the town and have a good time rather than take stay in their hotel room or home and study their craft. The results of these extracurricular activities are seen in their performances. Yet most fans, while in their 20s, made similar errors at their places of work. Yet for some reason they expect the players on their favorite team to be infallible at their jobs.
Many fans, while in their 20s, also make/made poor decisions or behaved less than admirably outside of their workplace. Yet fans rarely extend forgiveness to professional athletes who experience that sort of misstep. The bank teller who bad mouths his boss feels justified; the player who expresses discontent for her coach should learn respect for the game.
This is not to say anyone, professional athlete or not, should not be disciplined for breaking the law or should not be reprimanded for breaking the rules of their workplace and/or not giving their best effort. The problem is that fans do not allow for professional athletes to have an off moment. Fans are loathe to support players because they see players, because of their various errors, as not worthy of the entitled status they hold in society.
REASON 3: The fan’s expectation of player perfection stems from a simple transaction. Every sporting contest essentially involves fans spending money and players receiving money. Fans therefore have a natural bias against the players because they perceive the players as taking their money for participating in a leisure activity that they (the fans) participate in for free. No matter the context, someone in a lower economic group is not likely to identify with someone from a more affluent group. That lack of identification leads to a lack of support in labor disputes.
REASON 4: Because the money changing hands in many professional athletes have an autonomy in their lives that the fans paying to watch them will never have. Meaning there are very few decisions professional athletes are forced into the way that fans are forced to get up and go to the job they hate Monday-Friday. This relative freedom for players inspires a jealousy that prevents fans from siding with players in any argument.
Because of these reasons, fans will never fully side with players. And there players will always be the bad guys in any labor dispute. And that’s why there will get the short end of the stick.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org