I’ve stayed away from writing about the labor strife in Major League Soccer to this point for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is that, in reality, I’m no different than you. Despite having served as a reporter that covered a team in the league for a while, I don’t have any inside information about what proposals have been put forth, and which side such proposals would be more beneficial for. And like you, I want to see everything settled and games played as scheduled with the best players available.
I can’t tell you that under the current offer, the players are getting screwed, or the owners are giving away too much, etc. So these are purely my thoughts on potential ramifications based on what we’ve all seen in the press. I can’t enlighten you (and the overwhelming majority of folks can’t) about what’s going on behind closed doors.
But while people are free to react any way they desire to a strike if it occurs, I know that it won’t sway me from following the league. I’ve been following Major League Baseball since 1979, and the demolition of a World Series didn’t keep me away. I’ve been following the NHL since about 1981, and losing a whole damn season hasn’t dimmed my passion (hell, I bought season tickets 2 years ago to my favorite team).
And in what may be the most relevant example, I’ve been following the NFL since 1979 and still watch games on Sundays (or Thursdays, or Saturdays, or Mondays) as much as I ever have, despite multiple work stoppages. It really hasn’t changed my view on things, other than in the NHL’s case, to turn even more anger toward that league’s dunderhead commissioner.
So, in reading Bill Archer’s post from early this morning where he highlights a link to a Deseret News story that mentions the possibility of replacement players being used should the MLS players strike (an unsourced conclusion by the story author, by the way), the NFL example came to mind. Many remember that the league’s owners used replacement players early in the 1987 season during a work stoppage – hell, they even made a movie out of it.
I can’t say that I like the idea of replacement players. Something feels unclean about it. And MLS is in a unique position compared to the NFL situation. With some MLS teams still not having their own stadium (**cough** DC United **cough**), opening up the facility for any game might be a losing proposition financially, made worse by reduced attendance (likely) for a game featuring players from the Southern Maryland Yuengling League (SMYL).
But here’s the thing. I’d watch. I’d probably even attend. Part of it is from being so starved to see my team (DC) play after a long offseason. And part of it is that should it come to that nuclear option, those points are gonna count, folks. It draws into question the validity of the season, but if everyone’s in the same boat, then it is what it is. It didn’t keep me from watching the NFL in 1987, so I don’t know why this would be different. I don’t know that Redskins fans celebrated their Super Bowl win at the end of that season any less.
Perhaps the old line about sports fans supporting laundry is true – people will be there for the colors regardless of who is on the field. New players are shuttled in all the time during regular operations. It rarely changes our desire to root for the club. In 1996, beyond a few top players, I wasn’t enough of a soccer fanatic to know who was being brought in for each team – but DC had a team, so from that moment, they were my team.
I hope it doesn’t come to that. The financial positives of replacement-player games may be pretty limited for the owners, some of whom might be in better shape by not having matches at all. And that’s where there is concern for me over the likelihood of a strike by the players – who are likely to get ripped in the mainstream media, chastised by some closer to the game, and who, because of the financial situations for some or many of the league’s teams, may not have the kind of leverage required for a strike action to be effective.
Based on the reporting to this point, we know free agency is a core issue. But we don’t know what’s been offered either way, and we don’t know based on what’s been offered which side has a legitimate reason to feel on the wrong end of things.
Without that, I can’t make a blind decision to support the players in a strike situation, and I can’t say the owners are 100% right, either. But I just know for my own personal choice … if there’s a game, I’m there. My job, as it were, is to support the club when it needs it. And if that team is comprised of SMYL players (no relation to former Vancouver Canuck Stan Smyl), then the club is going to need all the help it can get.
I hope there’s a better answer out there to all this than a strike – I still truly believe there won’t be one. I also don’t believe the theory that a strike will kill the league – at least not immediately. But whatever does come from this, and whatever side you happen to be on, I think it’s fair to say that the end result from whatever is decided needs to be what will facilitate the league’s viability and growth over the next 15-20 years. Whichever side wins this battle, the sides have to be together in winning the war later.
I don’t know how we get there. And if a strike is a painful part of it, then so be it.
But when game time arrives, I’ll be there.