Last Thursday, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that Wednesday’s collapse of the labor talks occurred after the union proposed a 50-50 split of all revenues and the owners stormed out. The NFL never directly disputed Mort’s report, issuing instead a statement that hinted that the league could dispute the report, but that the league was opting to be discreet out of deference to its partner-turned-enemy.
“Despite the inaccurate characterizations of yesterday’s meeting, out of respect to the collective bargaining process and our negotiating partner, we are going to continue to conduct negotiations with the union in private and not engage in a point-counterpoint on the specifics of either side’s proposals or the meeting process,” the league said Thursday.
“Instead, we will work as hard as possible to reach a fair agreement by March 4. We are fully focused on that goal.”
Now, via on-the-record and apparent off-the-record disclosures to Mort and his business-suits-and-barstools partner Adam Schefter, the league seems to be trying to create the impression that management didn’t ditch the session after the union proposed a 50-50 share of all cash that rings through the register.
Specifically, Mort and Schefter report citing unnamed sources (i.e., management-side sources, in our assessment) that the league pulled the plug after the NFLPA characterized documents labeled “NFLPA Proposal” as something other than a collective bargaining proposal.
“As often happens in collective bargaining, the parties reached a point where there was a fundamental difference on a critical issue that was not going to be reconciled that day,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Mort and/or Schefter. “The discussions were adjourned to permit both parties to assess their positions and consider how to move the process forward. Far from abandoning the process, in the first four days after the Super Bowl, we have had two meetings of our labor executive committee and negotiating team, a conference call with all 32 clubs, and a meeting with the union.”
That reference to “abandoning the process” comes from the criticism the league has endured in the wake of the perception, based on Mort’s report, the NFL took their bat and ball and went home after the union made a reasonable opening proposal for sharing all money earned by the sport.
But the reality is that the NFL did abandon the process of bargaining. Having a conference call with the 32 clubs and convening internal meetings of the labor executive committee and negotiating team don’t constitute bargaining. The league and the union planned to meet for nine hours Wednesday and five hours Thursday, and at some point on Wednesday the league called the whole thing off.
No matter how the league spins it now, that constitutes abandoning the process.
Indeed, nothing contained in Sunday’s report amounts to a retraction of Mort’s Thursday report. (We’ve sent Mort an e-mail seeking clarification that his Thursday report still stands.) Thus, the fact remains that the NFLPA made a reasonable opening offer and the league opted not to respond to it. Now, the league adroitly is trying to chalk the whole thing up to a misunderstanding.
A misunderstanding that prompted the NFL to abandon the process.
The good news is that the two sides plan to meet again this week. But with only 18 days to go until the current labor deal expires, nothing short of a “sustained and disciplined commitment and round-the-clock talks” will get this done. We know that because Commissioner Roger Goodell called for a “sustained and disciplined commitment and round-the-clock talks” on ESPN’s Jim Rome is Burning, way back on January 21. And then when the parties were finally starting what could have become a “sustained and disciplined commitment and round-the-clock talks,” the NFL got its nose out of joint and walked out.
As a result, it’s reasonable to question whether the NFL truly wants to do a fair deal, or whether the NFL will only do a deal on its skewed and one-sided terms. As time passes, we’re starting to wonder whether, at the core, this fight isn’t about revenue sharing or the players getting a “such a great deal” in 2006 or an unsustainable model that generated $9 billion in a bad economy. We’re starting to suspect that the enormous financial success of the league has left the owners believing that the players are simply making too much money, and that the owners want to take some of it back.
Sometimes, the simplest explanation is the accurate one. And with the league unwilling to provide hard evidence to support changing a system to which 30 of 32 owners agreed five years ago, it’s hard not to think that this is all about the owners realizing that the players are getting paid more than the owners think they should, that the owners have the leverage to squeeze them into giving a chunk of it back, and that they’ve decided to squeeze.