SALT LAKE CITY — Did you know that the NFL lockout is a public safety issue, like swine flu and Lindsay Lohan?

According to Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens linebacker, if the players and owners don't resolve their labor dispute — which involves the excruciatingly painful task of trying to divide annual revenues of $9 billion while still putting three Escalades in every garage — there will be trouble.

Specifically, the lockout could cause a crime wave.

"Do this research," Lewis, the budding sociologist, told ESPN. "If we don't have a season, watch how much evil, which we call crime, how much crime picks up, if you take away our game."

When asked why, Lewis answered, "There's nothing else to do."

Unfortunately, Lewis didn't elaborate, leaving listeners as dazed and confused as the running backs he tackles.

So we are left to figure out what he meant on our own. I am volunteering for the job. How difficult can it be for a guy who once deciphered Karl Malone Speak?

Apparently, Lewis believes that Americans have nothing better to do than watch NFL games; that their lives are utterly devoid of any other interests or meaning; that they have nothing else to look forward to other than pro football, and that they spend the off-season tapping their toes and checking their watches waiting for autumn to arrive; that Americans are a bunch of Neanderthals who love to see modern gladiators give each other multiple concussions.

OK, he has a point.

But does he really think we are going to rob a 7-Eleven or mug our neighbors because we can't watch the Packers and Cowboys on Sunday Night Football?

Get real. We'll just riot in the streets and burn down a few buildings, or turn into baseball fans.

Sorry, that last sentence was an exaggeration — we would never turn into baseball fans.

Then it occurred to me: Maybe Lewis didn't mean the fans would go on a crime wave without football; maybe he meant THE PLAYERS.

That's not a big stretch. Look how Antonio Bryant has fared in recent months without football. Look what Michael Vick, Plaxico Burress and Ben Roethlisberger, among many others, did when they were away from football. Idle hands and all that. Maybe what Lewis meant was that we better end this lockout before the players starting (ran)sacking villages and throwing innocent bystanders for losses and intercepting Brinks trucks and so forth.

Personally, my biggest fear is that the idle players will say something stupid during the lockout, as they tend to do. Who can forget what Patrick Ewing, the president of the NBA players association at the time, said during the 1999 NBA lockout: "Sure, we make a lot of money, but we spend a lot, too."

Or this: During the same lockout, Kenny Anderson tried to win public support for NBA players by complaining that he might have to sell one of his eight luxury cars to survive financially.

Well, it turns out that crime rates among the general population do actually decrease during the football season. The FBI believes the trend is not connected to football, but to the change in weather and the end of summer break for students. Apparently, criminals like to do their work in warm weather and when they're not on vacation.

Research indicates that the only crime connection to football might be the increase in domestic violence on NFL Sundays when home teams lose emotional games. Maybe Lewis is wrong; maybe the lockout will reduce crime in the home.

Or maybe Lewis doesn't know what he's talking about.

"There's too many people (who) live through us," said Lewis by way of explaining why he believes that crime will spike if Americans can't watch him break people in half on Sundays.

Imagine if Americans had to do without the NFL for a season. They might have to go to church more frequently. They might play sports instead of watching them. They might lose weight with more exercise. They might pay more attention to the family on Sunday. They might have more time to have the in-laws over. They might have more time to read.

Someone better end this lockout soon.

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