NFL Contract Fight Brings Out the Weasel In Everyone

News flash: Team owners don't really care about fans. Plus: The players deserve more

At the top of this latest post, I must give full disclosure: I am pro-union and pro-NFL players. I was a member of the Newspaper Guild for years. I sat on strike for seven weeks, fighting alongside my reporter colleagues for benefits like nominal raises in pay and health benefits. And without the bonding of a group, all for one, we wouldn’t have gotten dick from a management that desired to reap more of profit margin at the expense of their hardworking employees.

[SIGNUP]I’m also not naïve enough to believe that the NFL Players Association is actually a union in the sense of that word. They are a collection more than a union, bonded together by the life-threatening activity they engage in and on that basis, they believe they deserve a bigger piece of the owners’ pie. And I agree.

I understand that playing football isn’t an inherent right. It is a choice. Players make a choice to make a living in a sport that breaks up bodies and requires more physical activity in a week than most of us see in a lifetime. But that shouldn’t make us look at these players in a lesser light. NFL players are warriors who put hearts, minds and health on the chopping block every Sunday.

For the layperson who’s not reading the sports pages or listening to the talk radio show, here’s a quick synopsis of what’s going on in the NFL right now:

1. There currently is no collective bargaining agreement.

2. The players believe that they should be getting more of the league’s total revenue—a 50-50 split—while the owners say they can’t afford that because they are already facing problems with declining revenue in the league. The players are saying if that’s the case, then let us see your financial books. The owners are saying we can’t show you our financial books, but just take our word for it, we are losing money.

3. Because there is no collective bargaining agreement, the NFL owners have locked out their employees, have shut down all league business, and hence are not paying their players in hopes that this kind of financial pressure will force the players to sign an agreement on terms favorable to the owners.

4. The NFL players have de-certified and broken up their union, the NFLPA in order to make an anti-trust lawsuit more viable.

5. The NFL players have also gone to court to ask a judge to issue an injunction against the lockout, which would allow players to go back to work and league business to continue under the old mandates of the last collective bargaining agreement until both sides could negotiate a new agreement.

6. The NFL Players Association, subsequently, is putting pressure on the prospective picks in this year’s NFL draft (who will eventually be members of the NFLPA union) not to participate in the televised and ballyhooed draft because all that TV production does is make the league look good.

It’s all enough to make you throw up.

We have federal anti-trust laws based in the economic history of this country and the industrial revolution that we all read about in our high school textbooks. The federal anti-trust laws were meant to avoid price-fixing among big corporations. Technically, everything you see in sports is a violation of anti-trust: salary caps, trades, age-restriction rules, the draft. You would never be able to do business this way in ANY other business. But sports gets anti-trust exemptions because of the proliferation of collective bargaining. The theory is if both sides agree in good faith on certain bargaining provisions, then no one is getting screwed. With no collective bargaining, and in this case, no players union, the NFL is clearly violating federal anti-trust laws. There can be no other outcome, if this thing goes to court, that the players will win. That’s why, in my opinion, this issue will be settled soon.

Now, so far as the fans go, we are mere victims of rich people trying to divvy up big cash. I have to laugh at the statements issued by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and several of the league owners, including the Eagles’ Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner, about how much they “care” about the fans.

The other day, Goodell issued a statement that the NFLPA walked away from a deal “that offered compromise and would have insured the well-being of our players and guaranteed the long term future for the fans of the great game we all love so much. It was a deal where everyone would prosper.” Says you.

Banner, meanwhile, sent a letter to Eagles season-ticket holders that read: “We want you to know our focus is on preparation for the 2011 season, and we are going to continue to do everything we can to strengthen our football team. We will be ready to take advantage of all opportunities within league rules to help reach our ultimate goal …. Regardless of what transpires throughout this off-season, our commitment to winning a Super Bowl remains the number one priority throughout our entire organization. We are also committed to keeping an open line of communication with you and our entire fan base throughout these labor discussions. We plan on hosting several events throughout the off-season that our fans can enjoy.”

Ya see, they really, really care about you! If I were a cynic, I would say something like, if you really cared about the fans, you could do the most fundamental of things to prove that such as not charging full price to see preseason games, but that’s just me thinking out loud.

While I have clearly expressed my support for the players’ side over the owners, I have to say that it is pretty much a weasel move for the NFLPA to apply pressure on the prospective draftees not to enjoy their moment in the sun. We all know that the players union will sell these rookies down the river faster than Andy Reid can throw a challenge flag. The FIRST concession the players will make to the owners is to have a rookie wage scale.

Can’t anybody be a straight shooter anymore?