Situation shouldn't be a surprise
Both sides only did what they wanted to do and what they were willing to do
Remember that neither player nor owner will lose their shirts in this deal
The plight of financially strapped young NFL vets won't resonate with the public
Here's wishing they would have saved us all some time and skipped the explanations of what went wrong, or why things broke down once again. I really didn't need to hear from either NFL lead negotiator Jeff Pash or union head DeMaurice Smith today, telling us how very hard they worked and how they did everything in their power to try to find common ground and the path to get something accomplished in the NFL's going-nowhere labor negotiations.
Blah, blah, blah. We know none of that is really true. Both sides in this league-versus-players stand-off only did what they wanted to do and what they were willing to do. Nothing more. The rest is just spin and trying to keep the upper hand in the public relations battle. And the blame game is beyond tiresome at this point.
The NFL doesn't have labor peace today, and after more than three weeks of mediation talks in downtown Washington, D.C., both sides still appear to be headed down the road that will assure the most possible damage: Decertification and litigation by the union, a likely lockout and responding litigation by the owners. That is where this multi-billion-dollar melodrama has seemed destined to wind up all along. Even if both sides kept blabbering on about how bad they feel for NFL fans, and how much they only desire to protect the future of the game.
Transparency has been the big topic of the week in these negotiations, so here's some for you, in news flash form: What the league and its players are both trying to protect is as much of the NFL's $9.3 billion of revenue as possible. Nothing more. Nothing less. We all like money, so on some level we can relate to that. But we also like our football, and that's the part both sides seem more than willing to play with, even at the risk of doing harm to the game and to those people who watch it and make it so wildly popular.
And no matter what they say, or how much they spin, both sides are willing to take that risk and possibly inflict that damage because of the obscene amount of money that's at stake. They do so even while talking ever so respectfully about the NFL and the fans who have exalted it to such a special and cherished place in our society.
Let's not let our perspective get clouded by all the back-and-forth rhetoric we've heard over the past several months. No player or owner is going to lose their shirts in this deal. Only the people like those on a team's support staff, or the stadium workers who rely on the NFL season for a huge chunk of their annual income might experience dire financial consequences from what's ahead. In other words, the people who are the most dependent upon the game.
It may not be millionaires fighting against billionaires in every case, but it is the rich against the richer, and if you don't buy that, then I guess you make considerably more than the $320,000 minimum salary that an NFL rookie was paid in 2010. Players and owners both largely live their lives on the inside of the velvet rope line, and that type of star treatment does tend to warp one's real-life perspective.
Just last week, I was left speechless when I heard of Chiefs guard Brian Waters' plans to start an emergency fund to help the younger, fringe NFL players who would be "most vulnerable'' if a lockout starts eating away into the 2011 regular-season game checks. Waters said some young players make ends meet by counting on those offseason workout checks and training camp stipends that teams pay out, and he wants the game's highest-paid players to pitch in and help subsidize them if a lockout lingers.
Really? Does Waters or any other NFL player really believe that the vast amount of working Americans can relate to or feel sympathy for pro athletes making more than $300,000 annually, but who need help paying for "health care and day-to-day expenses,'' as Waters put it? Because given the very real union battles that are being fought around this country these days, for a lot less money than that, I don't know how much the plight of financially strapped second- and third-year NFL veterans is really going to resonate with the public.
But to hear Drew Brees and some other NFL players tell it, their efforts are straight out of "Norma Rae,'' fighting against management for the good of the little guy and on behalf of a union that has been aggrieved over the years. Spare us. The reality in the NFL is both sides hit the jackpot quite a while ago, and the league generates more than enough revenue to make everyone happy. But now no one's happy. That's called irony.
As for the NFL owners, I'll start by pointing out what one longtime league executive reminded me of as recently as two weeks ago in Indianapolis: "Those guys are crazy.'' Amen to that. Most NFL owners have been believing in their own hype and a personal sense of entitlement for so long that they're actually convinced everything they touch should turn to gold.
Some of the folks who own NFL teams have gotten their way so many times that they think it's their default setting in this world. New stadium in a community that really can't afford it? No problem. Milking every last available dollar -- and then some -- out of the TV networks, corporate sponsors and the fans? That's just the way they roll. When you own the most popular game in town, everybody wants a piece of what you're selling.
Little wonder then that there's a lack of trust between these enemy camps. When you know you're right, it's the other guy who has to be wrong. I suspect some owners, with their deep pockets, think they're really what makes the game go in the NFL. As for the players, well, they absolutely know they are the reason for the success of pro football. All that stuff about being equal partners? That was so pre-2008. Maybe not even Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw really ever bought into that phony baloney.
So now the players aren't going to play, and the owners aren't going to pay, and they're both expending plenty of energy trying to convince us that all the fault for this labor predicament should be aimed at the other side.
To that I say, blah, blah, blah. Oh, and from here on out, do us a favor and save your breath, please. There's plenty of blame to go around in this high-stakes money grab, but whenever it ends, I predict both the owners and the players will still be winners in the grand scheme of things. Call it a hunch.
As for the fans, both sides said they were thinking of you, but I'm guessing it's kind of hard to feel the love right now. The players have taken the big, bold steps they see fit, and the owners will soon follow suit. The fans get to do something, too, but it's not quite as empowering. They get to wait to see what happens next. After all, it's what they do best. You can bet both the owners and players are counting on exactly that.