Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Gap in Time

Some days are difficult. He struggles to his feet in the morning, rear legs shaking, barely supporting his weight, as he stiffly, slowly makes his way to our pool area. The Carprofen prescribed by his vet alleviates the pain, but not the years. He is nearly thirteen, an advanced age for large dogs and Cheddar, the yellow lab who has lived with us since near birth, feels the passing of time with each rheumatoid step.

Other days are better. He rises with anticipation, looking ahead to meals, daylight, and the comfort of our large yard, where he will spend his time walking, sleeping, and taking in the sun. On his best days he will move with ease and alacrity, taking us back nearly a decade, to a time when youth, passion and curiosity defined his life.

Age affects all, including the inanimate. It has been more than six weeks since we learned that our home, built in 1957, wept hot tears of age. Our hot water pipes had corroded, requiring the re-piping of the entire house. The decision was made to work through the attic and avoid ripping up floors to access the concrete foundation, where the original pipes had been laid.

After some haggling with our insurer, work began. We decided to combine re-piping with the remodeling of our bathrooms, something long overdue. We began with our master bathroom, which can be accessed directly from our pool area, behind our house. We opened the side gate to our yard fence to give workers direct access to the bathroom without affecting other portions of the house. This meant, however, that our dogs’ access to the yard would be limited. They would spend most of their day, while the work was in process, confined to a small area of our covered patio.

Cheddar was miserable. His mornings became more painful and his days less active. He seemed disoriented and lethargic, leading one of the workers to express surprise one morning, when he saw Cheddar emerge from the house. He had been convinced that Cheddar would not make it through the night, so evident was his affliction.

We then made some changes. The side gate remained open to allow workers to come and go with ease, but we placed a small gardening fence across the gap, which allowed Cheddar to again roam the yard.

The change was immediate. The spring was back in his step. He was more focused, more active. He looked ahead to each coming day.

The work on our home continues. It will likely be another month before re-piping and remodeling is completed and we again have two fully functioning bathrooms. My wife and I think back to the days before our home became a construction site and wonder when our lives will return to normalcy.

Cheddar does not mind. He greets workers daily as they enter the yard and spends most of the day observing them from his favorite spot on the lawn. He is visibly happy, contented by the feel of grass against his body, the security of routine and the soothing comfort of the familiar.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Silent Partner

Players and owners talk late into the night, discussing ways to split the substantial pot that constitutes National Football League profit. The weeks-long owner-imposed lockout gave rise to union decertification, litigation and, most recently, a new round of labor talks. While uncertainty surrounds the upcoming NFL season, few seriously believe that the games will not be played. There is too much money at stake, too much to be lost at a time when the impact of a cancelled mid-1990’s World Series and a cancelled mid-2000’s NHL season remains fresh in all minds.

The NFL season will be played. After weeks of media and negotiating room battles, players and owners will eventually put aside differences and announce to the world that they have entered into a partnership for the coming years. All’s well that ends well, as Shakespearean scholars might say. Backs will be slapped, hands shaken, greenbacks exchanged, and players will march onto the field in full uniform, secure in their share of the billions that ticket sales, television and advertising revenue provide annually to the sport of football.

Neglected in this scenario is the fan – the third party to the contract that makes possible the sharing of wealth between players and owners. If sport is purely entertainment, as many insist when justifying high player salaries (if rockers and actors can make millions, why shouldn’t professional athletes?), the fan is a necessary part of the show.

There is a reason why games are played in front of packed stadiums, with cameras spanning the rabid crowds and quarterbacks’ calls unheard over crowd noise. It makes for better television, and football, above all sports, is very much a creature of the tube. Sundays are no longer days of rest; they are days of football doubleheaders (tripleheaders, if we count the league’s Sunday night entry), replete with pre-game shows that open with the rising sun and commercials that pad the pockets of players and owners with advertising revenue.

Would the effect be the same if the stadiums were empty? Would players elevate their performance to their present levels if the cheers were not there? Would home viewers tune in to watch games played with “canned” background crowd noise?

As an integral part of the broadcast product, the fan is very much a partner in the business that is professional football. Without the fan’s contribution (both financial and spiritual) to the sport, football does not exist.

Yet, when the time comes to negotiate finances, the fan is a silent partner. He is not privy to the numbers exchanged between players and owners and has no say in the gathering or distributing of revenue. His principal role in the partnership is that of investor, and he will never see a penny of the billions of dollars he pours into the industry. His benefit from this partnership will be unquantifiable - a vague notion that somehow, by investing money and emotion into the NFL season, the quality of his life will improve (a questionable premise for fans of the Detroit Lions, whose teams are routinely amongst the worst in the league).

The fan has not been invited to NFL labor talks. He sits outside the meeting rooms while players and owners discuss how they will divide the money he will invest. Eventually, when players and owners reach agreement, he will be told how much he will pay for a ticket to a Sunday game. And he will accept his fate reluctantly because, in a world where only the loudest are heard, no one will listen to one who has no voice.