Given the intense fan reaction to Adam Schefter’s report that the NFLPA* told incoming rookies not to attend the 2011 draft, the NFLPA* quickly backpedaled, adopting the position that the entity with no power to tell anyone to do anything has not told the incoming rookies invited to Radio City Music Hall to stay home and watch TV.
But the NFLPA* has followed that message with a Marie Barone layer of passive-aggressive guilt, wondering aloud why any player would choose to attend an event being staged by the entity that will welcome the rookies with open arms — just before locking them out.
On Friday, NFLPA* Executive Committee member Drew Brees and NFLPA* president Kevin Mawae tried in separate contexts to pull off the “I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’” routine.
Said Brees on ESPN: “Each rookie has, if they’ve been invited to New York, they absolutely have the option of going to New York. I think to our point it was, ‘How do you feel about walking across the stage and shaking the hand of the Commissioner who just locked you out?’ And as great an experience as it is to get drafted, which it absolutely is, I think the even greater experience is to play your first game and to have the opportunity to win a championship, and right now that’s being threatened with this lockout.”
Said Mawae on Sirius NFL Radio: “[W]hen it comes down to what’s going to happen on draft day, we know there is going to be a draft. And the guys, the potential draft picks, they’re all men and we’ve treated them as men and they are soon to be equals with us and it’s their decision what to do on draft day. But here’s the thing, why would you want to stand up on a stage with a man that is going to prevent you from making a living, that has called for a lockout, and shined yourself all over the TV screen for the shield when in fact they’re the ones who are locking you out in the first place? That’s just something they’ve got to ask themselves. We have not boycotted. We have not said you can’t go. We’ve done nothing like that. But we do want them to seriously consider the idea that the man that you are going to shake hands with on the day you get drafted is the man that is going to prevent you from making a living.”
We have a ton of respect and admiration for men like Brees and Mawae. But at a time when the players want the owners to realize that the players aren’t stupid, the players need to realize that the rest of us — including the incoming draft picks — aren’t stupid, either. We all know what the players are trying to do. They want to pressure the rookies into not going to the draft, without being accused of pressuring them into not going to the draft.
We’d respect the move a lot more if the players would simply just acknowledge that they’re pressuring the rookies into not going to the draft.
Here’s our take on the situation. Both sides agreed when signing the 2006 CBA that a draft would occur after the ultimate expiration of the agreement, regardless of whether a new agreement was reached. Both sides need to respect that, and both sides need to fully commit to the process.
The players also need to realize that no one watches the draft to see the new players walk across the stage and get a man hug from Roger Goodell. The gesture is for the new players’ benefit, not ours. Fans will still watch the draft, regardless of whether the incoming rookies attend it.
That said, the damage already is done. Any rookie who attends the draft will have a harder time fitting in with some of the harder-headed veterans on his team once the lockout ends. And any rookie who attends the draft also will have to keep his head on an even looser swivel when on the field against opponents who perceive the decision as a betrayal.
And that’s unfortunate. Men like Drew Brees and Kevin Mawae and most of the other players can’t relate to the sacrifice that a handful of rookie have been pressured into making, since they weren’t invited to attend the draft when they were rookies. And what’s really the goal? To send a message that barely will resonate?
At this point, the NFL’s best move possibly would be to invite no rookies to the draft, and to explain that the league doesn’t want to force its newest employees to have to make such a difficult decision in light of the pressure that their future peers are deliberately placing upon them.