You have to hand it to the NFL. It doesn't matter that they're in a prolonged labor dispute that has caused all kinds of rancor from players, owners and fans and could likely see the league's first work stoppage in more than two decades, they still go about their off-season business as if they don't have a care in the world and go ahead and tease us with the release of next season's schedule.
Who cares about the strange legal wrangling that may ensnare this year's draft picks, the lives of the second-, third and fourth-tier players that suddenly find themselves without employment or heath benefits, or the fact, at a time many people have so much trouble finding any job, 32 billionaires are arguing that their league — the most successful and popular in the world, despite it being contained to one country — isn't making enough money?
There are many reasons we've been mum on the NFL labor dispute for most of this off-season. Even as Drew Brees has stepped into the spotlight as one of the Labor representatives seeking a fair shake for the thousands of nameless players that sacrifice their bodies for little or no fanfare (and even as Brees has gotten into spats with retired players over how to properly compensate that sacrifice), we just couldn't bring ourselves to discuss the season.
This is has truly become one of the more depressing story-lines of the past few months. Say what you will about placing too much importance on a sports team or league, or what it means about the United States that one of its most significant cultural landmarks could be accurately described as nothing more than drunken violence wrapped in blind patriotism and commercialism, the NFL matters. In the same way that birthdays and family reunions and graduations and holidays matter.
The NFL, for all its faults (of which there are many), is still the epicenter around which most Americans' lives revolve from August to February every year. Living in New Orleans, you don't have to convince anyone about the ability of a team to foster civic pride, a sense of community and act as a force for recovery in a stricken town (even if that owner of said team is kind of jerk and his players don't think highly of his business).
The United States, as many people well know, isn't doing so hot right now and hasn't been for quite some time. Sports have always been able to act as a more-than-adequate distraction for those of us that are down on our luck or would just like to not think about the tedium and pressures of the day-to-day.
And yet, what are we to do when the country as a whole is suffering and our largest collective distraction is in danger of not returning? Surely, life will go on and — especially in New Orleans, where sustained success in the NFL is relatively new — we will find other distractions.
The true question is, now that we have actual games on a calendar, games that we can point to as having been sacrificed as a result of this labor dispute, how will it affect us going forward? Of course, the NFL isn't the first sports league to see a work stoppage and all four major sports leagues have bounced back form their lost seasons. But will we begin to see the NFL through a different, more cynical lens, or will we just go jumping back in, desperate to see games after a layoff?
Will the NFL, through all this ugliness, continue to surge into prosperity on the broken backs of football players and the thin wallets of its fan base, or will it be knocked down a peg and humbled to more accurately reflect our changing times?
Whatever the answer, it can't come soon enough. We're already tired of watching NFL replays with the constant thought that it's all the football anyone will see for a long time.
Let's just hope we all get our national distraction back soon. After all, the rest of the country doesn't have Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest or the Red Dress Run to keep them occupied. New Orlenians should consider themselves lucky.
The Saints (prospective) 2011-2012 season schedule is after the jump.
Home games in CAPS, Nationally televised games bolded
WEEK 1: at Green Bay, Thursday Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m., NBC
WEEK 2: VS CHICAGO, Sunday Sept. 18, Noon, FOX
WEEK 3: VS HOUSTON, Sunday Sept. 25, Noon, CBS
WEEK 4: at Jacksonville, Sunday Oct. 2, Noon, FOX
WEEK 5: at Carolina, Sunday Oct. 9, Noon, FOX
WEEK 6: at Tampa Bay, Sunday Oct. 16, 3:15 p.m., FOX
WEEK 7: VS INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, Oct. 23, 7:20 p.m., NBC
WEEK 8: at St. Louis, Sunday Oct. 30, Noon, FOX
WEEK 9: VS TAMPA BAY, Sunday, Nov. 6, Noon, FOX
WEEK 10: at Atlanta, Sunday Nov. 13, Noon, FOX
WEEK 11: BYE
WEEK 12: VS N.Y. GIANTS, Monday Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
WEEK 13: VS DETROIT, Sunday Dec. 4, Noon, FOX
WEEK 14: at Tennessee, Sunday Dec. 11, Noon, FOX
WEEK 15: at Minnesota, Sunday Dec. 18, Noon, FOX
WEEK 16: VS ATLANTA, Monday Dec. 26, 7:30 p.m., ESPN
WEEK 17: VS CAROLINA, Sunday Jan. 1, Noon, FOX