I love football and also I really, really hate football. During the NFL season, I spend three days every week watching and obsessing over the games and then I spend the other four days thinking about how football is a barbaric sport that propagates violence and toxic masculinity and brings out the worst in its fans and, also, about the ways football intersects with and interacts with cultural, political, and economic issues.
Over the course of the upcoming season, this column will present by struggle between these competing ideas. I’ll review the important things that happened during the games, but more importantly I’ll highlight the other side of the sport, the off-field issues that make the NFL the worst professional sports league in America. The way the league forgives domestic abusers. The way it fails, time and time again, to protect its employees. The way the men in power in the NFL constantly flaunt that power in problematic ways.
For this first edition of The Midweek Blitz, I want to focus on two things. With the season coming up in less than a month now, I want to preview some of the things we’ll see on the field this season, to make some predictions for the way this season will go. First, though, I want to talk about a man named Joey Bosa and the contract dispute he’s currently going through.
The One With Joey Bosa and Labor Issues
In May, Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was drafted third overall in the NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers. In theory, this means that the Chargers thought Bosa was one of the three best players in the Draft and that he would be a big future building block for their team. In practice, though, things look a little different.
The NFL has a collective bargaining agreement that sets the salary for new NFL players. There are some obvious issues with this—namely that young football players have their earnings artificially capped for the first few years of their career in a sport where most careers only last four years anyways—but I’ll probably focus more on those at a later point in the season. Right now, I want to focus on the issues going on between Bosa and the Chargers about HOW that set amount of money is going to be paid to him.
Bosa should be able to sign a four year contract worth around twenty-five million dollars, which, yeah, is a LOT of money. Because he’s a first round draft pick, that contract is guaranteed—it’s worth noting that MANY MANY MANY NFL contracts are NOT fully guaranteed, which is really unfriendly to employees and very friendly to the rich old dudes who own the teams. The issue is that Bosa wants one of two things: he wants the contract to NOT include offsetting language—more on that in a second—or he wants his signing bonus right now.
Alright, so what are those things and why are they important for Bosa (and for everyone else). Bosa’s contract is guaranteed, so if the Chargers cut him at any point they’ll still have to pay him. Offsetting language would mean that the Chargers could get out of paying him IF someone else signs him. So, for example, if Bosa is owed six million dollars and gets cut and another team signs him for five million dollars, the offsetting language would mean the Chargers would only have to pay him one million dollars. They’d be able to get out of paying the full value of the contract. What Bosa wants is a contract that requires the Chargers to pay him the full value of the deal no matter what. OR, he wants his entire signing bonus right now. Players get a big chunk of money upfront when they sign a contract. San Diego wants to be like NOPE and spread that bonus over a few years in order to save themselves money.
Since the new collective bargaining agreement was signed, every number three overall pick has gotten one of the other: a full signing bonus or a contract without offsetting language. Bosa wants one or the other, just like everyone else has gotten. The Chargers, meanwhile, seem content to not sign Bosa or play Bosa until he agrees to sign a deal with neither of the things he wants/everyone has gotten.
This is important for the rest of us because it’s a major referendum on the power of unions in an increasingly anti-union world. The NFL players are unionized. If Bosa and the union can’t get the Chargers to agree to give Bosa a fair deal, there are two options. One, Bosa gives in and signs a deal he doesn’t want because he wants to play and get paid now. This option severely weakens the power of the players and their union because it would represent a major negotiating win for the owners. The other option is to just not play. If he hasn’t agreed on a contract with San Diego by next year, he’ll be eligible to be drafted by someone else. There’s probably no way another team would try to fuck Bosa over then, which would be a major win for the union.
It’s really interesting to watch how fans are reacting to this because they seem to be pretty pro-Bosa. Usually in NFL contract disputes fans tend to side with the team owners because, I don’t know, fans really just want to watch football? Every year, young players who are still playing under their first contracts (which are, again, artificially depressed by the league) but have established themselves as stars already will refuse to report to training camp until their teams negotiate new and better contracts with them. If you turn on ESPN during these disputes, you’re bound to see someone yelling about LOYALTY and HONORING THE CONTRACT YOU ALREADY SIGNED. Fans tend to get really upset when a player wants to get paid an amount of money that correlates better to the amount of money they’ve made for the team. They aren’t with Bosa, which probably is a sign that the Chargers are really, really fucking this whole thing up.
A Quick Preview
I thought, since Entropy is a writing-centric site, I’d hit up a few writer friends and get their thoughts on how their teams will do this year, because the only thing cooler than reading one person write about football is reading multiple people write about football. So here goes:
Brian Oliu, author of Leave Luck to Heaven and also lots of other books:
The 2015 Colts were like when you’re helping a friend make a giant pot of chili & they’re like “hey, I hear that coffee & star anise & chocolate & cinnamon really make chili taste amazing,” & you’re like “yeah, I’ve heard that too, but don’t you want to include some chili powder & some cumin” & they’re like “nah, this’ll be good” & then it turns into horrible sludge that has to be thrown out. For the 2016 Chili Cook-off, your friend is like “Hey, sorry about last year. You were totally right about last year. Let’s include some of the basic building blocks of chili this time around.” & you’re like “Awesome!” & then your friend pulls out a garbage bag full of last year’s chili & dumps the entire shaker of cumin into the pot.
Matt Rowan, author of Why God Why:
There’s a reasonably good chance the Chicago Bears will improve upon their middling 2015 record. My hope is honestly a 10-6 record and a wild card playoff birth. Cutler surprised me in, during a season full of bad surprises, by actually appearing to care about the team and his own performance (I generally think he does care; it’s just his resting asshole face betrays him constantly; also, his rumored “being an asshole” in everyday life probably doesn’t help, either). The offensive line, while full of new and/or rookie pieces, has the promising anchor of Kyle Long moving back to his more natural position at right guard. I’m not super psyched about the tight end situation, but it’s more out of a desire to have had Martellus “Black Unicorn” Bennett work out with the team, instead of in many ways not. I like the upgrades on defense, with Pernell McPhee being the gem of a myriad of offseason acquisitions that should really help. Then again, they’re in the same division as the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers, and specifically with reference to the latter, as long as that’s the case their best case scenario is having their hands full. Their worst case scenario is what’s been happening these last few decades at the hands of their nemesis to the north.
Anne Valente, author of By Light We Knew Our Names:
The Rams leaving St. Louis was bittersweet, a team the city grew to love across 21 seasons despite being predominantly a baseball town, though not paying for a new stadium was best for St. Louis. It will be a weird year with the Rams back in Los Angeles, though they have the promise of Todd Gurley and also rookie QB Jared Goff. I predict an uneven but somewhat steady season, not unlike their past few, though who knows – the Rams’ first seasons in St. Louis were dynamite, so maybe a change of venue will give the team that same Greatest Show on Turf recharge.
I honestly don’t know what to expect from my own favorite team, the Houston Texans, or from any other team in the NFL this year. More than ever, the months since the Super Bowl have given me a chance to completely ignore football, to immerse myself in basketball’s slightly better world, to focus on writing more and consuming violence less.
We’re currently one week into the NFL preseason. The official start of the league is September 8th. I only watched a handful of plays this week, but once things start to actually count next month I’ll be right back at it, sitting in a bar or in a living room watching football just like I have every autumn for as long as I can remember. Maybe I’ll spend Friday nights at the local high school games and maybe I’ll go see my university’s team play on Saturdays and maybe I’ll be able to push away the part of me that wishes football was banned at those levels due to the severe trauma they cause to still-developing brains.
Whatever happens, though, I’ll be here week after week, starting next month. Thinking and worrying and thinking more about the game that takes over this country from September to January, about the on field and the off field action. By the time the next column runs, I’ll have finished my fantasy football draft, which means I’ll have researched all the teams and players enough to really know what to expect over the course of the NFL’s seventeen week season. For now, though, I know this: bad things will happen behind the scenes in the NFL this season and the majority of the writings online about the NFL will ignore these things. My goal—which I hope, readers, is yours too—is to not stay silent about the bad moments of sports and fandom. Susan Sontag once wrote, about the idea of Camp, that:
I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost as strongly offended by it. That is why I want to talk about it, and why I can. For no one who wholeheartedly shares in a given sensibility can analyze it; he can only, whatever his intention, exhibit it. To name a sensibility, to draw its contours and to recount its history, requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion.
I’m strongly drawn to and strongly offended by the NFL. Hopefully this will give me a unique perspective by which to analyze the upcoming season.