After hundreds of hours of research and reflection, I have come to the conclusion that professional football as we now know it is doomed. As is professional basketball. Neither the NFL nor the NBA have a viable future. Their impending labor struggles make this clear. I could explain the complex financial algorithms I employed to make such a bold prediction. I could detail my exhaustive survey of the history of business. I could diagram the rolling cycles of boom and bust down through centuries of Western development.
Or I could simply tell you that, like a palm reader, having carefully scanned the lifelines on the bottom of Michelle Ryan's feet, I see the end of the NFL just around the corner.
And that very soon, you will meet a handsome stranger. And take a long journey. By train!
I propose to save them.
The battle between the players and the owners continues to be presented to us as an archetypal struggle between the virtues and necessities of labor and capital. The nuances of which are meant to seem as complicated as a Tokyo subway map.
They are not.
The owners in both cases, already wealthy beyond your imagining and at your expense, simply want to keep more of their record profits. This they will do by rolling back the money they spend on players.
A lockout is unimaginable. We are a nation of football junkies, after all; and I shudder to think where a cold-turkey year without our football fix might lead America. Certainly into a period of unprecedented public incivility. A whole nation with the shakes. With the icy sweats. With the bad hands and the bad head and the bad heart. The entire country bent double under the bad weight of that unjunked fantasy jones.
Accident and assault rates skyrocket.
A widening, deepening recession as hundreds of thousands of sportscasters and strippers flood the job market.
Political discord and collapse as senators and representatives of every stripe and party are left without home state stadium graft and without the campaign kickbacks that flow straight off the foam of those $12 beers.
Divorce rates quadruple as couples emerge from their annual autumn torpor and think, What have I done? Sweet Jesus, what have I done?
With our red zones empty and our churches full, it's only a matter of time before we lash out. Before we finally settle those old accounts. Before we annex Mexico. Before we at long last launch a nuclear strike against whichever Korea we're against. Before we incinerate, as was foretold by both Nostradamus and the liner notes to the White Album, Canada.
For want of weekly NFL football, the world will lie in ashes, a lifeless and smoldering ruin.
I can't just stand idly by and watch that happen. Also, I have a Christmas Club account due to mature next year and I need the $78.
First, nationalize the game. Take it away from the owners and place it under the auspices of the state. If the owners complain, remind them of the many moments in history when the rough justice of the streets was used to recall to the aristocracy its essential fragility, and to restore fairness and to reapportion property. As was the case in the French Revolution. They'll sign over their teams fast enough when cries of Off with their heads! ring through every fan zone and food court and concourse.
Then change America's Game (Pat. Pending) to suit the new America (Pat. Pending).
There is no longer such a thing in this country as job security. We're all freelancers now. A Nation of Entrepreneurs! says your idiotically upbeat Style Section. I'm sure you've seen it in all the papers. At least the ones still publishing.
In that spirit, no more NFL contracts, no more NFL salaries. Every player to live a life just like every fan.
Win or go hungry.
Every game, all season long, winners take all.
The NFL pumps about $10 billion around the economy annually. With 333 games played every year, that makes each game, every game, from preseason to the playoffs, worth about $30 million.
Therefore, every week at every game, this same amount will be held as a large stack of shrink-wrapped cash at midfield, surrounded by armed guards. The winning team may carry it away and divide it however it likes among its members. (Avidly entrepreneurial fans can make the choice to strong-arm the money away from the players by overwhelming them as they try to leave the stadium. Such laissez-faire security guarantees sellouts everywhere, even Jacksonville.)
At halftime, one lucky ticket holder will be awarded his or her weight in TANF coupons or day-old bread. And in the interest of full employment, teams may now be of any size up to 25,000 men, so can pull their neediest fans right down from the stands to help out on special teams.
But there will be no coaches, as they are nothing but bourgeoisie money changers, angry middlemen and neurotic parasites.
The rules of play remain otherwise unchanged.
As I've suggested elsewhere, the rate of serious injury will plunge if we take away the helmets and the pads. Simple instincts for self-preservation -- not ranting martinets or indifferent owners -- will determine player conduct. Teams will be allowed to keep their current uniforms if they choose, but with no padding. In the grand spirit of the American theater, however, teams willing to show some flair in their costuming will be awarded double points. Therefore, a not-very-good team willing to play while dressed as actual cowboys or saloon girls will find equal footing against a better, drabber, butch-er team.
And of course, no weapons but those previously registered to players.
By accelerating a process already well under way, this is a simple solution to save professional football from itself, and with it the fantasy lives of tens of millions of obsessed fans.
To say nothing of Canada and Mexico.
The NBA? Repeat as above, but in short pants.
Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. You can e-mail him at email@example.com, or follow his Twitter.com feed @MacGregorESPN.