At a certain point the question becomes this: Is there a labor group within the NFL that the owners are not willing to just brutally mistreat? Because this shit is getting ridiculous.
We already know about the players. The NFL conspired for years to keep information about concussions from the players, who are constantly exposed to brain injury. Non-guaranteed contracts and the rookie wage scale artificially tamp down players' earning potential and shift 100 percent of the risks associated with playing football to the players, placing owner profits far above all other considerations. The "improved" personal conduct policy merely broadens the league's authority to punish players for off-the-field behaviors the NFL is ill-equipped to even grasp, let alone handle fairly or honestly. The players, in short, are getting screwed with their padded football pants on.
Then there was the referee lockout, in which owners hired disastrously incompetent scabs in order to strong-arm the league's referees out of an amount of money that isn't even a whole drop in the bucket of NFL revenue. Or was it even about the money? That's right: three weeks of a season were flushed down the toilet over an apparent ideological disagreement. It's a good thing referees don't play a role in addressing player safety!
And, of course, the horrific nightmare that is the week-to-week exploitation of NFL cheerleaders has been increasingly exposed for some time now, before reaching a new height of appalling awfulness with this week's revelations from a lawsuit filed against the Buffalo Bills. Among other complete horseshit, the Bills responded to the suit by daring to suggest that they don't actually employ cheerleaders, a semantic distinction that disavows their complete control over the subcontractor whose name would go on the paychecks. That is, if the cheerleaders were ever actually paid.
But even that monstrous display of greed and cynicism is dwarfed by the recently uncovered use of indentured labor as concessions workers at at least one NFL stadium. Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were using unpaid homeless and destitute people as dirt-cheap game-day labor, all but pressganging them into service by tying shelter and sustenance to their wageless work. Even after this abomination was exposed to public scrutiny, the Buccaneers haven't deigned to comment on the matter, rolling their concessions contractor out there to soak up all the heat.
Never mind, these groups are very obviously at the bottom of the totem pole of important functioning parts of the NFL product. After all, what real use do football spectators have for concessions workers, cheerleaders, referees, and players? Everyone knows the spectator sport is made and sustained by the NFL's world-class collection of billionaire violent-exploitation-as-pop-patriotism peddlers. GO DAN SNYDER! IS JIMMY HASLAM ELITE? HOW MANY FANTASY POINTS WILL JERRY JONES GIVE ME ON SUNDAY?
1 p.m. — beIN Sports — La Liga Soccer: Atlético Madrid vs. Villareal
Atlético are still tucked right behind Barcelona in third place. Eight points separate these two sides on the table, but their goal differentials aren't far off, and this one could really go either way.
2 p.m. — ESPN — "Basketball": Harlem Globetrotters vs. Washington Generals
What the hell, ESPN. Imagine how far down the list of sports counterprogramming options ESPN had to go before they decided to air a taped Globetrotters match. Was there no indoor intramural tetherball tournament at which they could point a camera?
3 p.m. — beIN Sports Español — La Liga Soccer: Real Sociedad vs. Athletic Bilbao
The weekly La Liga mid-table sideshow. BREAK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.
3 p.m. — beIN Sports — Serie A Soccer: AC Milan vs. Napoli
Three measly points separate these two sides in the good-but-basically-out-of-it portion of the Serie A also-rans. Both teams score, neither team defends real well, should be a hoot. Plenty of cynical flailing.
3 p.m. — ESPN2 — Women's College Basketball: Tennessee (11) @ Rutgers (17)
You could do a lot worse than watching two good ranked teams battle it out.
6 p.m. — NBA League Pass — NBA Basketball: Warriors @ Pelicans
The Pelicans are coming off an encouraging win over the Cavs, while the Warriors are the best and hottest team in the NBA. This listing is conditional: Anthony Davis was yanked from the Pelicans/Cavs tilt after taking a crushing elbow to the chest—if he misses this one, it will likely be a complete wipeout. But if he plays, I don't see how you can ignore a game with both Davis and Steph Curry.
6 p.m. — NBA League Pass — NBA Basketball: Bulls @ Heat
Both teams are coming off convincing wins over Western Conference teams, although Chicago's victory over the Blazers Friday night, in which Derrick Rose topped 30 points, was somewhat more impressive. Some of the animosity has been drained from this rivalry with LeBron in Cleveland, but the holdovers are certainly not best pals. This could be a good one.
7 p.m. — NBA League Pass — NBA Basketball: Suns @ Thunder
It's not even Christmas and these mid-standings Western Conference match-ups are already crucial. The field out west was already deeper than there are available playoff spots before Oklahoma City got healthy and started nuking bammas. Both teams absolutely need to string wins together, although the home team is in a significantly more urgent situation.
8 p.m. — NBA League Pass — NBA Basketball: Spurs @ Nuggets
Give Brian Shaw this much credit: Denver has been playing respectable basketball for two weeks now, and they've clawed their way within range of the back of the West's crowded playoff pack. The Spurs are coming off a discouraging loss to the Lakers, they should be out for blood in this one.
1 p.m. — LOGO TV — The Golden Girls
A short marathon to get you through today's first round of NFL games.
1:12 p.m. — TV Land — Roseanne
Yeah, I was that kid who had a crush on the second "Becky" on Roseanne.
2 p.m. — BBC America — Top Gear
A couple of hour-long episodes of silly British hijinks will help you ignore the early afternoon games.
3:17 p.m. — Comedy Central — Futurama
Comedy Central is breaking out the Futurama Christmas episodes, at least two of which are damn funny.
4 p.m. — FXX — The Simpsons
Another Simpsons marathon without any good episodes. Buh.
Noon — TNT — The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Here's the thing: overall, Peter Jackson's LOTR movies are good. But, like, they're also really, really goofy, and I'm more than a little annoyed that some sweaty Kiwi dork thought his bitchin' tweaks could improve the very best and most important fantasy stories of all time.
12:30 p.m. — AMC — Steel Magnolias (1989)
Actually, this is a good movie. Shirley MacLaine is incredibly funny as Ouiser, Olympia Dukakis is wonderful, Dolly Parton is adorable, and Sally Field has one or two great chew-up-the-scenery scenes, which is her wheelhouse. Check it out.
1:30 p.m. — FX — Thor
Silly, but in a good way. Natalie Portman is out of her comfort zone as a believable scientist and interesting romantic lead, but there's juuuuust enough chemistry between her and Chris Hemsworth to keep that particular narrative train more or less on the track. The rest is just fun and great-looking action stuff.
2 p.m. — CMT — Stand by Me
A spectacular movie, made all the more impressive by how kinda useless three of the four child stars turned out to be as adult actors.
2:15 p.m. — Sundance — The Lost Boys
Hey, what is this, Corey Feldman Day? It turns out, this really is a cool-ass movie. Great looking, cool music, a weird jerky mix of screwball teen comedy crap and intense, graphic violence — it's just great to watch and hard to turn off.
3 p.m. — FXM — Gangs of New York
So much of this movie misses the mark, but the stuff that hits is terrific, and Bill the Butcher is a memorable character. His scenes alone make the movie worth watching.
3:45 p.m. — TNT — The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
We share an aversion to fronting on this particular matter. Too fucking long.
4:15 p.m. — Sundance — Chinatown
It has some of the '70s "just have a weird-ass conversation and we'll film it" thing, but is otherwise an incredible and incredibly good-looking film noir masterpiece.
5 p.m. — WGN — Casino Royale
Fun and not at all self-serious, making it pretty much the opposite of Quantum of Solace and Skyfall.
8 p.m. — USA — It's A Wonderful Life
The best of the Christmas movies. It might be a few days too early to watch It's A Wonderful Life, but it's never a bad idea.
8 p.m. — FXX — Premium Rush
Michael Shannon is just great to watch in absolutely everything he's ever been in. Even as the dipshit goober who yells "Wrestlemania!" in Groundhog Day.
8 p.m. — Disney Channel — Sleeping Beauty
Heck yeah. Don't be a jerk. You know this is as good as animated movies get.
8 p.m. — IFC — Three Kings
A totally worthy entry into the war-film genre. Coaxes surprisingly complex performances from Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube, and takes a totally fresh (and vital) look at modern war.
9 p.m. — REELZ — True Grit (1969)
John Wayne as a one-eyed drunkard bounty hunter. So good.
9 p.m. — SyFy — Independence Day
One of the half-dozen or so most hair-brained studio flicks ever made. There are a few impossibly stupid moments, like when Vivica A. Fox's dog outraces a hell-fire that is literally lifting and throwing vehicles through the air and incinerating whole buildings, and then she manages to survive it by just, you know, closing the door. Or when an alien spacecraft apparently has, like, a firewire port for Jeff Goldblum's computer to plug into. I mean what the fuck. What was anyone thinking.
Alrighty. Just a few weeks to go before the regular season is over and done with. Hang in there!