One of the hallmarks of nearly 80 years of ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers by the Rooney family has been the genuine affection the Rooneys have for their players. To the extent that their players are part of the league’s players generally, Art Rooney, II, isn’t feeling all that affectionate right now.
In an exclusive interview with the team’s website (which makes it sort of an interview of Rooney by Rooney), Rooney pulls few punches when sharing his feelings regarding the manner in which the union handled the collective bargaining process. Like most other owners who have spoken publicly on the topic, Rooney believes that the NFLPA* had one goal — pushing the matter to decertification and litigation.
“The players never really moved off their position, and looking back at the whole mediation, while there may have been a couple of points where there was progress, overall we really never made any progress,” Rooney said. “In my mind, they never really used the process to get a deal done.”
Rooney acknowledged that the process was stressful at time. “It was emotional,” he said. “There wasn’t a lot of yelling and finger-pointing, but there was some. More than anything, it was frustrating in that there just wasn’t a lot of movement. There just didn’t seem to be a lot of interest on their side in getting something done and we just came away from it with the impression that this was their plan all along — to decertify and take this thing into the courts.”
For Rooney, the best evidence of the union’s strategy came from the union’s reaction to the league’s willingness to crack the books open.
“That was one of the strange things in the negotiations, because the previous week when that subject came up, we said — after a long time of not being willing to provide anything and really feeling like it was one of those things that wasn’t going to lead to anything — then we felt like, OK, maybe if we agree to give them something and try to provide them some insight into what has happened to the teams, maybe that would lead to a breakthrough,” Rooney said. “So we offered to provide them some financial information through an auditor, we offered to go through a third party and have a third party look at the information.
“It was a very strange reaction. They didn’t take the information, after asking for it. They said it wasn’t good enough. I don’t even know how you can make that judgment without accepting what was offered. Certainly we would not have been surprised if they came back after they had seen it and had questions. But they never even looked at it. To me, that was a little bit of a tip-off as to where they were really headed with this thing.”
He also emphasized the significance of the league’s willingness to table the 18-game discussion for two years, requiring joint approval of a shift in the regular season after 2012, at the earliest.
“[W]e offered to take the 18-game season off the table for now, and that it would be something we would re-visit in two years, and then it would have to be agreed to by both sides,” Rooney said. “That 18-game season seemed to be one of the biggest issues, as far as we knew, that the players were concerned about. So taking that off the table, we felt, was a major move on our part. But it really got zero reaction. Again, they seemed to not really want to continue negotiations, and rather to get into their litigation strategy. . . . [U]nder the current agreement, the one that just expired, we had the right to change the season without the players’ approval. This we felt was a major concession, a major step toward their side in terms of trying to address something that they had expressed a lot of concern about. Again, for them to not even really respond to that was very disappointing.”
As to the lawsuit filed Friday, Rooney echoed our assessment that things could move quickly. “[W]e expect there will be some kind of hearing and ruling on that within the next week,” Rooney said. “Then we’ll just have to react to that. Whatever the ruling is that comes down from the judge, we’ll have to decide whether to appeal it or whether it’s in our favor. We’ll have to see.”
So, basically, instead of watching guys in casual business attire parade in and out of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service in Washington, the next development will entail a parade of suits-and-ties into federal court in Minneapolis.