As we’ve said time and again, and as we’ll continue to say as long as we think we need to, we haven’t taken sides in the labor dispute because we think each side bears plenty of blame. As a result, we’ll criticize, when required, either or both sides.
The problem is that this practice causes the parties to sometimes focus only on the times we criticize their side, ignoring or forgetting the times we’ve criticized the other side. We’ve got no quota or checklist in this regard; we criticize one side or the other based on whatever we notice that cries out for criticism.
It’s with that preface that I’ll now criticize the NFLPA* and executive director DeMaurice Smith for a habit of resorting to rhetoric in the wake of any positive development. It’s a subject that was broached during Friday’s PFT Live discussion with Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports, who disagreed to an extent with our position that, at times, Smith and company have been spiking the football a little too aggressively.
And then I saw the MDS blurb regarding Smith’s over the top Godfather reference during an on-air segment with our friends Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton. Apart from the obvious generational confusion that can arise from a reference to going “to the mattresses” (some of the younger members of the audience thought it related to Chester Pitts’ and Raheem Brock’s telephone party), inflammatory comments like that serve no purpose. It won’t get fans on the players’ side, and it definitely won’t soften up the owners to do a deal that the players will regard as acceptable.
If anything, twisting the tails of the men who run the game will serve only to make them more motivated to win, especially since the owners can’t respond to fighting words. The owners know that, at some point, they’ll need the fans to re-embrace the players; thus, the owners can’t call the players liars or do an end-zone dance whenever a court ruling favors the league.
But the owners won’t forgive, or forget, being called liars by Smith. And they definitely won’t forget misstatements from Smith that represent negligence at best, deliberate prevarication at worst. For example, Smith previously told Mike Francesa of WFAN that the league hasn’t contributed to player pension plans for years, a grossly inaccurate contention that, as best we can tell, really pissed off the powers-that-be.
Smith’s most recent visit to the WFAN airwaves entailed a less controversial, but equally correct, misstatement. Speaking of the players’ current frustration with the owners, Smith said that “[t]hey resent the fact that the league has been found now twice to have violated the law.”
Maybe in following the ins and outs of this dispute we missed a second violation of the law by the NFL. True, the league violated the CBA by setting up a lockout fund in the most recent TV contracts. But there’s no other violation of the law that has been documented.
As to the second alleged violation, Smith probably is referring to Judge Nelson’s order lifting the lockout. (We’ve asked NFLPA* George Atallah to identify the second violation of the law; he has not yet responded to our e-mail.) But Judge Nelson hasn’t found that the NFL violated any law by imposing the lockout. Instead, she found that the players have a chance of ultimately proving a violation, and that given the nature of the harm the players are suffering, the lockout will be lifted while the litigation regarding the legality of the lockout proceeds. (If Smith wasn’t a former litigator, he plausibly could claim he didn’t understand that distinction.)
Our guess is that Smith has opted for rhetoric, regardless of whether it’s factually accurate, in order to help hold the rank-and-file together, even as more than 500 players continue to wait to become free agents, as dozens of others miss roster and workout bonuses, and as all of them move closer and closer to missing game checks. But the effort to ensure that the players’ resolve won’t crack could also be strengthening the owners’, making it even harder for the two sides to make real progress once the calendar moves to a point at which further delay will jeopardize starting the season on time.
The best approach? Drop the rhetoric. The fallback? Make sure that the rhetoric meshes with, you know, the truth.