We're not even a week into the NFL lockout, and it is already a polarizing topic among both media and fans.
The longer this goes, it's only going to get worse, and in large part due to the current state of sports media, irreparable damage could be done to both sides.
Let me explain. This lockout situation is different from any other that has existed in the history of professional sports. Why? Because there is no way to get away from it. In the past, labor wars were a public matter, and certainly polarizing, but you could look away if you wished. It wasn't in front of your face all day every day.
Today, if you are a sports fan that listens to sports radio, reads sports web sites, or (especially) utilizes social media as a way to keep up with your sports information, you will not be able to escape having both sides perpetrate their propaganda onto your consciousness.
Whereas in past sports league shutdowns you might have had a general sense of frustration with no real outlet to express yourself. Now you can shut your opinion from the rooftops, so to speak. The information you received from the situation was likely contained to late night sportscasts or a blurb in the morning newspaper.
Now, you're getting constant updates around the clock; you're hearing from both players and owners as they weigh in on the situation, be it over Twitter, or through an announcement that is released by the team, and immediately circulated nation-wide, rather than just to the local fan base. Players such as Heath Evans are going on sports radio programs and explaining the player's side of the matter, while other players are tweeting shots at the owners. This week, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings compared the players situation to slavery, and Rashard Mendenhall of the Steelers backed him up on it.
Supposedly objective reporters are taking sides, and letting you know about it. Most are siding with the players. Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports, wrote an article this week about the NFL owners, entitled How to run a business – Communist Party-style. He's not alone in supporting the (former) players union in this battle. The NFL for its part, has its own television network from which to get its message out as well.
It's somewhat jarring to see the same reporters who haughtily dismiss the notion that they can possibly root for a particular team -- because they are objective -- jump in to take sides here. I'm guessing they're projecting some sort of solidarity with the "working class" players against the "man" (the owners) but honestly, I don't see how they can compare themselves to the players in this situation at all.
Mentioned earlier was the idea that the frustrated fans themselves can now voice their opinion on the situation as well, something you really would not have seen in work stoppages past. The media is even seeking out fans to give them their thoughts on the lockout and whether it will impact how big of an NFL fan they will be in the future. Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston explored this topic with Patriots season ticket holders this week, first writing a column on the topic, with the input of several Patriots season ticket holders, and then posting a compilation of Tweets that he received from fans on the topic. It seems that the majority of fans who responded will be keeping their season tickets, but others, some of who sound extremely Pink Hat-ish, are giving up their tickets and saying they will never watch another NFL game.
What is striking to me about all of this though, is that this isn't going away. As the offseason progresses, and there is no movement on the talks, and offseason milestones such as rookie camps, mini-camps, training camps and preseason games are missed, the anger level is going to continue to rise -0 from all sides -- the players, the owners and the fans. Thanks to social media and an immediate news-cycle, it's going to be in our face every day.
If the players and owners continue the level of sniping at each other that the first week of this lockout has brought, it's going to be unbearable, and fans WILL begin to back away from the league, totally disgusted. How long can they be expected to hear the two sides continue to bicker publicly? The fans have the power this time to let their voices be heard, and they will be loud. This could be the most damaging work stoppage in professional sports history if the two sides cannot quit the insults and get back to working on an agreement.
The media's responsibility in the matter is to report the facts, and analyze the differences between the side. It is not to take sides in the matter with the intent of influencing the public. We're going to hear enough rhetoric from both sides, we don't need the media to attempt to push us into taking a side. We just want football.