A day after the league’s chief negotiator met with the media here in Dallas, it was NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith’s turn. And like NFL negotiator Jeff Pash, Smith seems prepared for a lockout.
“Every player and former player on this dais has heard me say, ‘Tell our players to prepare for the worst even when you’re hoping for the best,’” Smith said, flanked on the stage by current and former union members. “We intend to never give up talking about what’s fair for our players, what’s fair for their families, what’s fair for former players and what’s fair for future players.”
Smith indicated that the NFLPA is ready to decertify and go to court if the owners lock the players out, and he hammered away at the theme that it’s the players who want to play, and the owners who are planning a lockout that would deprive fans of football.
“Only one side can lock us out,” Smith said.
Smith dismissed Pash’s claim that everyone agrees that the players got a one-sided deal on the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“My guess is there probably is a little bit of disagreement,” Smith said. “It would be an understatement to say that there’s disagreement. there’s fundamental disagreement.”
NFLPA President Kevin Mawae said the players are concerned that a lockout would turn fans away, as work stoppages in other sports have.
“Our message has always been the same and will always remain the same: This business is built on the fans’ interest,” Mawae said. “Without the players there is no game.”
Mawae also responded to the controversy that erupted when Antonio Cromartie ripped union leadership, and then in turn was ripped by some of his fellow players.
“We’re a family,” Mawae said. “I have four brothers. My brother and I fight all the time and don’t get along, but at the same time we’re still family. It’s the same thing with Cromartie. . . . I represent him just like I represent the others.”
Although Smith didn’t specifically say that expanding the regular season to 18 games is a deal breaker, he strongly suggested that the union considers that an issue on which there’s no wiggle room.
“Any change in the season that increases the risk of injury, increases the risk of concussion, increases the risk of a long-term consequence of playing football, has the potential to shorten careers . . . anything that does that is not in the interests or the best interests of the players in the National Football League,” Smith said. “That’s going to be our position.”
Asked by a reporter from Armed Forces Radio Network about being quoted by the New York Times as using the word “war” to describe the negotiations, Smith didn’t back down.
“Did you read the rest of the article? There were another 1,900 words after the first,” Smith said. “I’m not sure that any of the guys I talk to shy away from blunt language.”
So let’s be blunt: Both sides have a lot of work to do in the next month if they want to avoid a lockout.