Unfortunately, the NFL and the NFLPA* couldn’t kick the lawyers out of the room on Friday, because the room was a courtroom and someone with a law license had to stand up and argue the question of whether Judge Susan Nelson’s ruling that the lockout should be lifted should be overturned.
Even more unfortunately, the lawyers demonstrated how lawyers can muck things up by using language that possibly could undo some of the progress that has been made over the past couple of days. In this regard, each side is guilty.
For example, NFL lawyer Paul Clement (pictured) reminded the three-judge panel that players have said the lockout is “the best thing that ever happened to me.” Albert Breer of NFL Network reported via Twitter that the remark brought about a “big response” from the players, which conjured an image of loud murmuring that prompted the banging of a gavel and threats from the bench that the courtroom will be cleared. (It apparently didn’t come to that.)
Seahawks guard Chester Pitts offered a retort via Twitter: “Making the most of awful situation or being positive person should never be miscontrued with ‘enjoyment’ as it relates to being LOCKED OUT.” (He’s right.)
Players’ lawyer Ted Olson provided similar verbal fodder for potentially pissing off the owners. He accused the NFL of being an antitrust violation “recidivist,” and he claimed that the league’s contention that the decertification of the NFLPA is a sham borders on “unconscionability.” (He’s wrong; though the players could win on that point, the NFL has advanced a good-faith argument in support of a finding that the decertification is a sham, and that the CBA didn’t prevent the NFL from making that argument.)
Clement kept at it on the steps to the courthouse after the hearing, contending that the recent settlement discussions in Chicago undermine the union’s decertification. “I think there’s no question that to the extent with what’s going on is continuing negotiations,” Clement told reporters, via Breer. “I think what that underscores is that the union has not disappeared forever.”
Apart from the possibility that Clement’s gratuitous bluster could cause the players’ to shy away from further negotiations, his contention could cause the players to dig in even deeper regarding their position that the union will not return, even if the pending antitrust lawsuit can be settled.
Clement’s words demonstrate that he simply doesn’t understand the mentality of football players. Even if it’s in the best interests of the game for a union to be in place, Clement’s tough talk could be interpreted by players as a challenge, prompting them to refuse to reform a union if for no reason other than to prove Clement’s cocksure prediction completely wrong. (In this regard, football players and Italians have a lot in common.)
Our advice to each side? Ignore the things the lawyers said today and focus on continuing talks without the lawyers involved. If nothing else, the rhetoric from Clement and Olson confirms the wisdom of trying to get something done without the barristers bollocksing everything up.