In an op-ed item that will appear in newspapers throughout the country, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says that “the time has come to make a deal.”
So what has changed in the last six days since the NFL stormed out of a collective bargaining session?
Well, nothing. The clock is still ticking toward the expiration of the labor agreement, and the two sides are no closer to sifting through and working out the various issues. The only real development since the last bargaining session has been the filing of a legal claim by the NFL, which has repeatedly chided the union for attempting to build leverage through litigation. The league’s filing before the National Labor Relations Board is aimed at blocking the union from decertifying, an act that would guarantee the continuation of football while the parties hammer out their differences in a courtroom.
That action in and of itself should alarm the fans of the game. The league so badly wants to be able to lock out the players and shut the game down for the full offseason and possibly beyond that the league is willing to sue the union to keep the players from exercising their ability to surrender their collective bargaining rights in the hopes of acquiring a little of that which they currently don’t have.
And while the players, who struck 24 years ago, aren’t trying to stave off a lockout for the benefit of the fans, the reality is that the union’s strategy, if successful, ensures that we’ll have football while the dispute is worked out in a courtroom, where a judge will be able to intervene when the lawyers are pissing and pouting at each other.
The league’s strategy, if played out completely, would take football away from the fans.
That’s why it’s hard to put much stock in the league’s stated desire to do a deal for the benefit of the players, teams, and fans. The league’s message, we believe, is incomplete. The league wants to do a deal, on the league’s terms. Or else the league will take the game away from the players — and from the fans.
Though it remains to be seen whether the league would play out this game of chicken to the point where a full season is lost, the league wants what it wants and the league is sending a clear message that it will do whatever it has to do to get what it wants, even if it means scrapping a full season. (It could be a bluff; if it’s a bluff, it’s a damn good bluff.) Meanwhile, the league claims to want to craft a long-term, win-win arrangement about which the players won’t have remorse in four years, but Goodell’s op-ed and other public communications contain idealism without concrete ideas.
Yes, the league wants to reel in the windfall given to unproven rookie players. But when the proposal sweeps far more broadly than the perceived problem, that’s not a real solution.
Yes, the league wants to address fan concerns about the quality of the preseason. But when improving the preseason automatically entails expanding the regular season in the face of widespread evidence that the fans don’t want a bigger regular season and almost uniform agreement from experts and commentators that adding two games would be a mistake, that’s not the right solution.
Yes, the league believes the current formula for sharing $9 billion in revenue doesn’t work. But when the league refuses to provide detailed information regarding profits for the 31 teams that aren’t publicly owned, it’s hard not to think that the owners simply believe they’re paying the players too much money and that the league wants to take some of it back.
We like and we admire Commissioner Goodell. He has a passion for the game, and it seems like he “gets it.” Still, we have to remember that, while he represents all stakeholders in the game, he’ll go the way of Fay Vincent if he doesn’t take care of the people who hired him.
The people who hired him believe that they hold all the cards. They think that the players eventually will cave and that the owners will get what they want. They also think that the fans will tolerate whatever indignity is visited upon us without ever turning on the game.
They may be right, on both counts. But that doesn’t mean that we as fans should sit by and watch the custodians of the game risk irreparable damage to it.
So make yourselves heard, in the comments section of sites like PFT and NFL.com. Also, call or write the league office and/or NFLPA headquarters and urge the two sides to act like partners, not enemies, and to quit dragging their feet and get to work on working out a deal that will preserve not only the regular season but also the most robust and intriguing offseason in all of sports.
If tactics like that get the attention of politicians, they should get the attention of the league and the union, too.
Both sides assume that the fans will be spectators in this latest episode of the ultimate reality show. So throw them a curve ball and be participants. Otherwise, the league and the union will continue to assume that, once they finally find a way to work our their many differences, we’ll all still be there, like sheepdogs with our cold, wet noses pressed against the living-room window.