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Ranchers, Cattle and Sports


Jimmy Devellano has worked in the National Hockey League in various capacities for 45 years so presumably he can speak with authority on most subjects National Hockey league and by extension sports. Devellano got into hot water when discussing the present National Hockey League owners’ lockout of the players when he uttered what is an unspoken truth.

Devellano acknowledged publicly what anyone connected in sports knows, players are just meat on the hoof and disposable at any time.

Ranchers and cattle in labor disputes.

“It’s very complicated and way too much for the average Joe to understand, but having said that, I will tell you this: The owners can basically be viewed as the Ranch, and the players, and me included, are the cattle. The owners own the Ranch and allow the players to eat there. That’s the way its always been and that’s the way it will be forever. And the owners simply aren’t going to let a union push them around. It’s not going to happen.”

Devellano happened to just tell that to Scott Harrigan of Island Sports News in Victoria, British Columbia. For his “misdeed” of talking during an owner’s pledge of solidarity and “breaking” a code of silence, Devellano and his employer, Michael Ilitch’s Detroit Red Wings are supposed to pay some sort of penitence in terms of some monetary figure.

The cattle reference may have been uttered by Texas E. Schramm, the president of the Dallas Cowboys and architect of the NFL’s 1987 scab, rather replacement players, solution to the NFL labor problems. Schramm allegedly called players cattle during the 1982 NFL players’ association strike.

Football players have understood they are cattle and take whatever abuse comes there way. In 1987, New York Giants defensive tackle Jim Burt walked into the New Jersey Meadowlands with a smile on his face when word came down that the National Football League Players Association had folded when the group’s strike against the owners for better wages (and it was always better wages for the NFLPA, not retirement and health benefits for retirees) ended because too many players crossed the picket lines including Lawrence Taylor and Joe Montana.

Burt was happy he was going back to work but he also said something rather remarkable. He acknowledged the players had lost but said that was OK because “football players are used to being beaten over the head.” That too was an unspoken truth that accidentally came out but was played down by a grateful media who could look forward to watching games again without being interrupted by a labor action.

Sports is just a business.

Sports in many ways has also become a religious experience for some people. The National Football League has somehow captured the attention of people in the late summer, all fall and into the winter who view either a stadium or a big screen television as a 21st century cathedral. The games are at the center of a Sunday life with the experience lasting about 13 hours.

There is communal bonding, drinking of an equivalent of wine and much discussion about the events.

There are also special cathedral days on Monday and Thursday when services or games are held. There is much talk during the week about what was important from the Sunday, Monday or Thursday offerings. When college and high school football seasons are done, there is an additional Saturday offering as well.

The National Hockey League lockout is all about money. As the late George Young used to say when he was the general manager of the New York Giants (he built the 1986 and 1990 Super Bowl inning squads). “You show me a player who says they would play for nothing; I will show you a liar.”

The National Football League lockout of officials is all about money also. The owners don’t feel the officials should get a pension anymore or raises.

Sports is a business to the owners and players and other employees and just fluff entertainment to fans. There are never any questions raised by games being a bona fide competition.

Devellano said what people in the sports industry know. It will be forgotten eventually when the players return to the ice.

There is nothing sacred about sports, about games, about uniforms. Unfortunately the diehards who love sports don’t understand that. To them it’s more than a game but for the “ranchers,” it is just business, nothing personal.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy’s 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on “The Politics of Sports Business.” He can be reached at evanjweiner@gmail.com His book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available at www.bickley.com and Amazon.com.


  1. The cattle and ranchers analogy comes from Gene Upshaw of the NFLPA, not Tex Schramm. The source of that story is an article in the Sep 25, 1987 edition of Newsday, here is the relevant quote:


    Upshaw said that Schramm was very direct about free agency during the talks yesterday.

    “Tex made it very clear,” Upshaw said. “He said the owners are the stewards of the game, and the players are only transient workers. The players come and go, but the game is the most important thing. I guess you have to relate that comment to something that it reminds me of: They are the ranchers and we are the cattle and they could always get more cattle.”

    ====(end quote)====

    It is clear that Upshaw came up with the analogy, he was NOT quoting Schramm. Here is the original 1987 Newsday article:



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