Even though we’ve moved on from the atomic to the information age, we all have a basic understanding of atoms. There are three components. Protons and neutrons cuddle together in the nucleus. Electrons buzz around on the outside. In simple terms, and NFL team can be likened to an atom.
Think of the stadium as the nucleus. The various non-playing personnel, such as trainers, marketers, and maintenance staff are the neutrons. They perform essential tasks that keep the team functioning. Although there is turnover in the ranks, it’s an anonymous group that is easily interchangeable. Owners, GMs and coaches are the protons. Their collective energy is directed inward. Owners finance the team. GMs recruit players and coaches. The coaches organise and direct the players. The players’ energy is directed out. They buzz around the perimeter competing with other teams, driving away other electrons. As such, they are the most vulnerable. Their careers tend to be the shortest unless the coach is ineffective.
As well, there is magnetism to consider. Neutrons are neutral. Protons are positive. Electrons are negative. Neutrality equates to anonymity, rendering a football team’s support staff irrelevant to this conversation. Owners, as protons, are positive solely in the context of the team’s existence. Until they decide to sell, they are wholly committed to the nucleus, investing their money and influence to improve the team’s value. Players are negative in two ways. They buy into the team concept on the field, allowing positive and negative to attract, but their primary interest is in furthering their own careers, supporting their families, improving their own lives. Unlike a real electron, they can resist the magnetism to walk away at any time.
In terms of labor relations, two observations can be made:
- Owner/protons and player/electrons are polarised opposites whose attraction remains at a distinct distance.
- It’s little surprise that fans [permanently vested in their team’s welfare] side with the owners who share that interest over the players, who [like them] are ordinary working stiffs.
At the moment, the NFL comprises 32 atoms. One is the Carolina Panthers. It’s been a busy offseason in Charlotte. It’s main proton, owner Jerry Richardson, cuddled a little too close to some attractive neutrons and made a disparaging remark about another. The controversy forced the franchise founder to sell the team to a new proton, hedge-fund manager David Tepper. Meanwhile, the Panthers traded electrons with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Cornerback Daryl Worley went to Philly. Receiver Torrey Smith came to Carolina.
As protons go, Tepper is a pretty big one. Forbes values his net worth at $11.4 billion. In 2012, he was the highest paid hedge fund manager in the US, collecting $2.2 billion. This year, he paid $2.275 billion for the Panthers. The man is playing with house money.
Even though his stewardship doesn’t begin for another month, Tepper flew into Charlotte to meet with players regarding the league’s new anthem rule. No one involved is divulging what was said but North Carolina is a very pro-military state. Among others, Fort Bragg, Pope Air Force Base, and Camp LeJeune are all within a few hours drive of Bank America Stadium. When defensive end Julius Peppers remained in the dressing room during the anthem last year, Richardson personally intervened and it did not happen again. Nor has any Panther ever knelt during the Star Spangled Banner.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is notoriously liberal in his political views and fully supported his players when they were outspoken. Torrey Smith, while moderate in his approach, supports the anthem protests. Many Carolina fans may consider him a highly charged electron. He responded to those who hold the belief the movement disrespects veterans.
He followed up when accused of not seeing both sides of the issue.
They didn’t ignore the reasons why folks thought it was disrespectful but they told you what their intentions were. Folks are ignoring why men were protesting and [that] they have facts that prove this country doesn’t treat everyone the same. One [group has] an opinion, the other has facts.
Smith was even clearer on the Panthers website.
I think when you see a reactive policy, and when I say that I mean something that’s done in response to what guys have done in the past, I always think that’s a problem, especially when the [original] message has been changed. Guys aren’t against the military. [Colin Kaepernick] originally started it against police brutality. It was never against the military, it was never about the military, but that narrative changed.
In the early going, Tepper and Smith seem to be giving each other space. The new owner hasn’t complained that the player’s views are on the official team website. The player has embraced the owner’s proactive approach.
It’s awesome that (Tepper) has come in right away and embraced the community. And keep the main thing the main thing, which is winning.
For now, it seems proton and electron can cohabit the same atom in Carolina, but if tensions rise, bet that politics will win out over chemistry and the electron will be cut loose.
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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.