It's only been four days since time ran out on the last Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and its players and I'm already sick of the back and forth between the two sides. I'm sure those of you following along are as well.
Please, spare me the rhetoric that this is "a fight" (or, indeed, a war) or that "these things get bloody" etc. This is a business negotiation, nothing more and nothing less. It's a negotiation about how to split up the money in a $9 billion business and no amount of weak, clumsy analogies to a physical confrontation are going to change that.
The number one thing fans need to know? Both sides are full of shit.
The NFL keeps trying to paint the picture that the players left a great deal on the table. They didn't. They walked away from a deal that should have been on the table weeks ago. The NFL knew all along they would have to make some serious concessions to get the players to give up the 18% roll back they were looking for. But rather than start there, they delayed and delayed and delayed, trying to frustrate the players into just being happy to get a reasonable offer. (Jay Feely illustrated this perfectly on a recent appearance on PFT Live).
On top of this, the league keeps getting caught doing shady shit. From the lockout insurance case that Judge Doty ruled on in favor of the players, denying the owners $4 billion worth of television money for games that wouldn't even be played (and where Direct TV would pay MORE in the event of missed games) to the revelation that the league tried putting in farcically low projected revenue growth numbers so that when the league easily surpassed them all the overage would revert to the league, rather than be split with the players.
It's just shady and shows why the players don't trust the league any further than they can throw them. (And with your bad knee Ed, you shouldn't be throwing anybody...)
And speaking of the players...
Where do I begin with this infantile bunch of petulant whiners?
For the record, I don't ever want to hear another player or anyone who represents them complain about the repercussions of playing football later on in life - ever. again. The proposal the players left on the table reportedly included a chance for all current, fully vested players to opt in to lifetime healthcare. Do you have any idea how costly that would be for ownership? Why does the league need more money? Um, perhaps to fund a program that will allow you to never worry about being covered for anything ever again when it comes to your medical issues later on in life?
And don't even get me started on the "open the books" mantra the now ex-union has adopted. Every reasonable movement toward the union by the league has been met with "We've been asking for 10 years worth of audited books for the last two years!"
Yeah, no shit. You know why? Because the owners opening their books was never, ever, EVER, going to happen. Ever. Ask any labor lawyer in America (and believe me, my Twitter feed and my Inbox has been deluged with labor lawyers telling me this) So why did the players keep asking for something they knew would never happen?
Because they wanted to go to court. They've been dying to go to court. De Smith, the Washington lawyer, wants to play on his home field. And now he's got his team set to do just that.
And you know what? At the end of the day, I can't say I blame him if that was indeed his strategy. He inherited this mess. It's not of his making. Yes, he campaigned for the job. He wanted it. But all he can do - ALL he can do - is keep as much as he can from the last CBA for his players. That's it. He knows whatever deal gets struck it will not be as good as it was. He has to show his players he's ready to do anything and everything he can to keep as much as he can for them.
My main point of contention then? Why the need to be SO over-the-top childish about this in the press and with the PR movement? "Suggesting" that the top college prospects not attend the draft at Radio City is the height of petulance. Enough has been Tweeted about on this subject to fill a book so I won't waste too much time here, but using these kids as pawns in your PR war with the league is as asinine as it is absurd. The kids coming into the NFL will have plenty of time to be indoctrinated into the ways of the union - leave them alone until they are actually claimed by a team.
And don't get me started on the "outreach" to the press after talks fell apart. Earlier this week the ex-union held a conference call for "selected journalists" And by "selected" I mean mostly, not all, but mostly jurnos that are sympathetic to the players point of view. Going back and looking at the first Tweets that appeared on my Twitter stream at the beginning of the conference call, I see Mike Silver, Jim Trotter, Mike Freeman, Doug Farrar and of course, Michael Schottey. Every single one of them have written heavily in favor of the players both before and after the lockout began. And every single one of them was there, trumpeting player propaganda for all their followers to read.
I have no problem with any of these guys. I've met and like them all. And they all have columnist responsibilities for their respective media entities, meaning its their job to have opinions. God bless them.
My problem is with the NFLPA shutting out people like myself, who have been critical of the union. (Yes, I know for a fact I am not the only one who was left off the invite list for the propaganda call) For months on end, my inbox has been flooded with conference call invites from the union. Some I joined, some I didn't. But now, having been deemed as someone "unfriendly" to the union's cause, my inbox lies empty of entreaties from the office of George Atallah. My inquires into why I am being excluded? Ignored.
I once wrote that Roger Goodell was insulting my intelligence. Yet I still get invites from the league and am allowed to cover their events because the NFL realizes I may disagree with them from time to time but I try to be more than fair with what I write. That's the grown up approach. Not so the infantile players union, which seems to have gone into full-on FOX News mode.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's part of the union's M.O. The owners finally put a deal on the table that speaks to a lot of the concerns players have had over the years and what do the players do? Do they work with the league? Do they, you know, negotiate? No. They stamp their feet and decertify.
Everybody wants to take sides and everybody paints me as "pro-owner". I most certainly am not. But the owners are, outside of the absurd press conferences being held by Jeff Pash (seriously Jeff - Just. Stop.) at least treating this as a business negotiation.
Here's the thing - the players are actually "in the right" here. Ownership is coming after them for one simple reason: Because they can.
The real problem? Guys like Jerry Jones, and his long standing crusade against revenue sharing. Because that's what this whole thing boils down to. Some owners like Jones, Snyder, Kraft, etc keep finding ways to produce bigger and bigger revenue streams that don't have to be shared. The Packers are in the midst of pushing the envelope in this area as well with the massive expansion around Lambeau set to provide a huge new revenue stream for the team that doesn't have to be shared with the rest of the league. That's the way forward in todays NFL.
The problem, of course, is that this movement is starting to create a real caste system in the NFL, the Haves and the Have Nots. And rather than sit down and hammer out a way that these new team-specific revenue streams could be transitioned into the revenue-sharing model that turned the NFL into America's year-round obsession, the owners have decided that its much easier to go after the player's piece of the pie.
James Surowiecki, writing for next weeks New Yorker, puts it perfectly when he writes:
The owners argue that cutting the players’ share will let teams put more money into things like stadiums and new media, and that these investments will, in the long run, make everyone richer. The problem is that owners and players don’t benefit equally when football becomes more profitable. Sure, everyone’s income increases, but the owners also see the value of their teams rise; a 2004 study found that new stadiums increased the value of franchises by an average of thirty-five per cent, an effect that, along with a boom in television revenue, has caused the value of the average franchise to triple in the past twelve years. This increase in value benefits the owners alone, and explains why so many of them are now billionaires. If you work for Google or Apple, stock options give you a chance to share in the increasing value of the company. In the N.F.L., nothing like this happens...
Roger Goodell is fond of saying that the players are in "partnership" with the league. Nothing could be further from the truth. But the players need to understand that there were some real concessions in the offer that was on the table when they decided to walk away from negotiations. And that's how deals get done - both sides making moves toward each other until finding middle ground. The owners, for all their shady bullshit, made a real move last Friday. The players need to stop sticking their fingers in their ears while shouting "10 years of audited financials!" over and over again, get back to the negotiating table, and make a counter offer to what was an incredibly promising proposal from the owners.
Because seriously - this, this and this is happening everywhere else in the world. Do you really want to be the people who screwed up the greatest professional sports league in the history of our nation with THAT as a backdrop? Really? Because that's how history will judge you. That's how you'll be remembered - that at the height of it all, and with the world in chaos and turmoil all around you, with Americans longing for escape in the one place they thought they could get away from it all - you found it more important to act like spoiled fucking children than to talk to each other like adults.
Shame on you.
Get it done.