Protecting The Shield

The National Football League logo, commonly referred to as The Shield.

The National Football League is a billion-dollar empire that continuously ranks as the most popular sport in the country. People have religiously devoted themselves to their team’s performance every Sunday, which has resulted in huge profits and significant expansion in recent years. Much of this popularity and success is do to the on-field performance of the players, but a significant portion of the success can be attributed to the relationship between the league and the player’s union. Although they accomplish much, the struggle for power and control over the vast empire of the National Football League is not always peaceful and frequently shows similarities to violence that is detailed by Thucydides thousands of years ago.

A sculptor’s depiction of Thucydides.

Thucydides is an ancient Greek historian and philosopher and his writing of the Melian Dialogue details the struggle between world powers during the Peloponnesian War. The text showcases the conflict between the powerful Athenians as they attempt to conquer the small, weak island of Melos. The Athenians believed that the possession of this island would significantly increase their world power and allow for further geographic control. As the overmatched Melian’s pleaded to be left alone, the Athenians decided that it was in their best interest to take over the island, so they easily conquered the island. Although the violence exhibited by the Athenians may be considered excessive, it leads to Thucydides’ main point regarding why people fight or use violence. He argues that fear, honor, and interest are the driving forces behind any violent action or discussion and this principle can be applied to the current struggle between the National Football League and the player’s union for control over the game.

National Football League commissioner, Roger Goodell.

A very prominent issue facing the most popular and profitable sport today is the relationship between the National Football League and the union representing the players. As the league has become more profitable, arguments have ensued regarding player health and safety as well as several other key issues. Each group is fighting for their own specific causes and they both hold a unique vision regarding the future of the league. This results in many disagreements, and in recent years several prominent issues have arisen. Concussions are a major part of the game of football and the union has worked extremely hard in recent years to obtain money from the league for players suffering from brain damage as a result of injury sustained during play. As the Wall Street Journal showcases, the player’s union has been successful in their fight with the league to receive additional money for these players. While concussions have been the most prominent topic of discussion between the league and union, they have battled over other key issues in recent years. Player safety and workplace conditions are very important to the union, and as USA Today details in their report, the union has been successful in their efforts to receive shorter practices and fewer practices of full-contact. In addition to issues regarding health and safety, the National Football League has agreed to share more of their profits with the players, as the league illustrated in their own comprehensive report. As each group fights for their vision of how the league should be operating, several parallels can be drawn between the themes of Thucydides’ work and the current disagreements facing the National Football League and the player’s union.

When applying Thucydides’ belief about motives for fighting to the current disagreement between the National Football League and its player’s union, several key similarities can be seen. Thucydides observed the Melian and Athenian conflict and concluded that people fight because of fear, honor, and interest. In the context of the National Football League, each group fights for these three reasons as well. The player’s union fights out of fear of players playing in unsafe conditions that cause injury or other undesirable results, while the league fears that with significant changes to the game, its financial bottom line and sponsorship deals could be in jeopardy. When analyzing honor, both groups fight for their issues for similar reasons. Everybody wants the league to be shaped how they desire and the honor that comes along with that is a strong reason why the league and union fight so hard. Interest is arguably the most prominent reason why both parties push their issues. The league’s interest is in maintaining the profitability and popularity of the game, whereas the union’s main interest is in achieving the best possible situation both physically and financially for its members. Just as Thucydides observed reasons of fear, honor, and interest driving the fight between the Melians and Athenians, the themes he showcases can be applied to a modern day issue facing the National Football League and its player’s union.

As the Melians and Athenians disputed over land over 2,000 years ago, Thucydides was able to conclude that people fight because of fear, honor, and interest. When applying this principle the modern day issue facing the National Football League and its player’s union, the theory still holds true. Just as the ancient groups had their own specific reasons and motives behind their disagreement, the National Football League and the player’s union is a strong modern day example of a disagreement with two very visions but very similar motives for fighting.

One thought on “Protecting The Shield

  1. I think it is interesting that you would decide to juxtapose the NFL and the Melian Dialogue and do see a valid point in what you are saying in regards to the similarities between those two things. However, I was thinking about the power struggle between the NFL and the player union and believe that the NFL needs the union as badly as the union needs the NFL. If all of the players went on strike with the Union then the NFL would totally fall apart, whereas if Athens did not capture Melos they would still be a force to be recking with.

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