When Judge Susan Nelson ordered a second wave of mediation last week, most in the media were pessimistic. Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com and I chose to be optimistic.
And now Freeman has crapped all over that glimmer of hope.
Freeman reports, based on “brief telephone and text message interviews with people familiar with the talks” (at least Albert Breer will have company in jail), that neither side is serious about negotiating because each side believes it will win the first major legal skirmish regarding the question of whether the lockout will involuntarily be lifted.
The players presumably think they’ll win before Judge Nelson, and the owners presumably like their chances before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, where 13 of the 16 judges were appointed by Republican administrations, which in a loose red state/blue state sense will make them more inclined to side with the league over the players on the threshold legals issues relating to whether the courts can enjoin a lockout and whether the NFLPA* effectively decertified.
Regardless of who wins, we all lose. Here’s why.
To achieve long-term labor peace, the two sides need to feel equally good — or equally bad — about their partnership. With each side intent on swinging for the fences, someone will end up having to do a bad deal. Which means that it’ll be a short-term deal. Which means that we’ll be right back in this situation again in three or four years, if not sooner.
That’s why now is the perfect time for each side to recognize that they can lose, that in many ways they already have, and thus they they should do a fair deal now instead of a crappy deal later.
Complicating matters, as one source with general knowledge of the dynamics but no actual knowledge of the talks told PFT (that’s how you stay out of jail, fellas), is that NFLPA* executive director DeMaurice Smith has painted himself into a corner by taking two extreme positions: (1) demanding 10 years of audited financial statements; and (2) calling the March 11 offer from the owners as the worst deal in the history of sports.
In order to steer this thing in the right direction, Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan needs to acknowledge this reality, and then to come up with a strategy for helping Smith ease away from those positions without looking lame in the eyes of his constituents.
More importantly, Magistrate Judge Boylan and Judge Nelson need to realize that the two sides aren’t truly taking the mediation seriously, and they need to order that all parties attend and participate — each of the 10 named plaintiffs and each of the 32 owners. They may not like it. But the judges shouldn’t care, and neither should the fans.
The players and the owners currently are playing Russian roulette with the interests of the game, all in the name of getting more for themselves. The fans who have yet to lose interest should be very pissed about that.
And we’ve got a feeling that plenty of those fans will make their feelings known on April 28, 29, and 30, whenever anyone — Commissioner or incoming players — steps onto the stage at Radio City Music Hall.