The attack on the league from the President over the anthem issue may have brought players and teams together, but it hasn’t bridged the divide between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
A thorough and comprehensive look at the week that was in relation to the anthem controversy from Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham of ESPN.com reveals lingering animosity and mistrust between management and labor.
“Knowing the league the way I know the league, they are first and foremost concerned about the impact on their business,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told ESPN.com. “That’s always their first concern. I mean, who are we kidding?”
Smith also said that, during a Monday phone conversation, Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed hope that the anthem protests would end.
“My only response was, ‘I don’t have the power to tell our players what to do,'” Smith said. “At the end of the day, this is a group of players who are exercising their freedom. There is no room for me to snap my fingers and tell our players, ‘It’s time for you to give up a freedom.’ Just the idea offends me. It’s almost as if the players are being asked, ‘What’s it going to take for you to stop asking to be free or to be treated like an American?'”
Smith also took issue with the scheduling of a Tuesday night meeting between owners and players, given that he received an invitation on Tuesday morning, at a time when it was too late to attend. Smith regarded it as an “end run.”
“I viewed that as insulting to our players’ leadership,” Smith said. “The league tries to use some of our guys to give them cover, to get them on their side. Our players’ leadership wasn’t pleased, and I wasn’t pleased.”
Few were pleased about the Tuesday night meeting. As explained by ESPN.com, some owners thought the players were “delivering union talking points.” The players saw something they rarely witness — owners on the ropes.
“For the first time, the owners are afraid of the players,” Smith said, echoing something the President said on Wednesday. “It has less to do with money and it has more to do with control. The owners are used to being in control — and they aren’t on this. They know it. They hate it.”
Still, at some point the players realize that they reside in the house that could be burned down over this. While that may be an overstatement, any reduction in revenue eventually affects the players. They need to balance their newfound power with the bigger picture. Of course, that scale swings both ways.
“The owners had no problem whatsoever giving up $10 billion worth of revenue when they decided they were going to cancel football for an entire year,” Smith told ESPN.com, referring to the lockout from six years ago. “Now they want to make an economic argument to the players that exercising their freedom somehow hurts the business.”
It’s a good point, and it’s another example of the tension that will forever exist between two entities that need each other but, thanks to years of disharmony, will have a hard time working together when they arguably need to the most.