In four months, the NFL will have a unique opportunity to honor one of the most emotional affairs in American history, but the lockout could sabotage its chance to open the regular season on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.
If the squabbling between the sides continues, the owners and players will have to take a step back and realize what they've lost. The anniversary of this tragedy, which put the NFL on hold for a week in 2001, should force the owners and players to reflect on what is supremely more important than a few dollars in one direction and a lack of sense in the other.
While the two sides must work hard through the course of their negotiations to find a square deal that is beneficial to each party, there's no denying the public relations nightmare the league will face if it can't honor 9/11 in Week 1, especially since the NFL has puffed out its chest to let the world know about its opening date.
"That's something that could just be a good tribute, not so much as playing football again but for America in general and American pride," said New England Patriots wide receiver Tyree Barnes, who has served as an officer in the Navy for the last two years. "That 10-year anniversary could be able to honor what some consider to be America's game. For me, that would be something great even if I was there watching. I would love to be able to watch [the NFL's opening weekend] with so much pageantry along with it. That would be a great thing to watch."
Barnes, running back Eric Kettani and wide receiver Shun White have an authoritative viewpoint on this matter. They're all on the Patriots' reserve/military list while they complete their 24 months active duty in the Navy. Barnes and Kettani are scheduled to complete their service next week, and White should be done around the New Year.
They have dedicated their lives to protecting the country, and Barnes and Kettani hope to earn a spot on an NFL roster in the 2011 season, providing the lockout ends in time. If they're playing for the Patriots on Sept. 11, they'll have a chance to see their lives come full circle.
"There are some deep issues with that, the 10-year anniversary and a lot of things," Kettani said. "The economy dropped with the War on Terror, but you can tell Americans really rebound. Americans have that true pride, from the early days of the Great Depression, and now with the economy having a huge impact on the War on Terror. It would be great to have a football season. I would love to have the lockout finish tomorrow, and we could go to camp, having the opportunity to go to camp and show what myself and also Tyree Barnes [can accomplish] after two years of being out fighting the War on Terror."
Finally, some true perspective from two guys who are on both front lines.
In reality, the lockout and the 10-year anniversary are two different and completely separate entities. But if the lockout continues to linger without resolution, it will hit home a whole lot harder on Sept. 11. If the NFL loses some games in the 2011 regular season, all parties involved in the work stoppage will face a monetary repercussion that very few Americans can even comprehend. This is hardly about that, however.
The NFL has a powerful voice that can be used to spread a message to the rest of the world, to both allies and enemies. And with that comes a tremendous amount of responsibility. There would be an invaluable amount of symbolism of opening the regular season on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, and the message would be clear: America is a proud country that has recovered from a tragedy that stemmed from hellish intentions. And the United States has continued to move forward since killing Osama bin Laden.
"One of my officers," Kettani said, "he's like, '10 days, 10 months, 10 years, it doesn't matter. We're not stopping until we find someone, until we stop the war.' The War on Terror is a huge deal in the military, in the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, it doesn't matter who it is. The War on Terror is out there at all times. The 10-year anniversary is a big deal for the country and for the armed forces."
Barnes and Kettani were both in high school during 9/11 — Kettani remembers being in French class when the planes hit the World Trade Center — and they each said it played some role in their decision to attend the Naval Academy. Now, years later and with their active duty nearly complete, they've been able to reflect upon that portion of their lives.
"I didn't realize the huge impact it would have on me," Kettani said. "Now, 10 years later, I'm an officer in the Navy, and I have an opportunity to play for the New England Patriots. You don't know where your life is going to go. It's crazy."
As the 10-year anniversary draws closer, Barnes knows he'll be proud as Americans join together in remembrance of a greater cause.
"It will definitely hit me just to know how far I've come as a person, how much I've given outside of just myself, how much time, sacrifice and devotion I've given up to be a part of something that is bigger than myself," Barnes said. "[The anniversary] may not mean so much in the eyes of myself, as it could mean so much more to other people. It's definitely something I didn't realize back then, and seeing America come together as a whole helped open my eyes to that."
And if the NFL doesn't reunite in time, it will be guilty of a mistake that it will never be able to take back. That's the type of perspective the sides need to consider as the lockout tempts the fate of the regular season.