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But the players union does not respond in kind; it takes an almost malevolent view of Rozelle. Whereas the baseball and basketball unions tend to view Kuhn and O'Brien as management, professional adversaries, more personal antipathy is directed at Rozelle, and he is viewed as an extreme—more repressive, more reactionary than the consensus of the owners. Further, it is Garvey's cynical view that Rozelle is not altogether honest in attacking the union, that he does so in order to create an external devil to frighten his owners into sticking together. "As soon as he lost the AFL as a common enemy, he turned on the union," Garvey declares.
But then, turnabout is fair play. Rozelle maintains that Garvey is walking down the same side of the street. "Ed Garvey constantly attacks me because he feels if he attacks the top guy he might finally build a cohesive union," Rozelle says. "I'm glad grievances go to outside arbitration now. What do I want with the kind of power Larry O'Brien has that constantly causes him problems? I don't want to be on the spot. I want to be an escape valve. But Garvey doesn't want that. He prefers confrontation and controversy to tranquillity and progress."
Garvey: "Rozelle loves to call himself a neutral, posing as the lonely guy in the middle. Now he's the only man in America who still believes that, but he keeps on playing the role. Let's face it: Rozelle is the head of a monopoly, and his job is to keep it a monopoly and keep it unregulated. And he does a great job at that. I told Rozelle once that I'd love to represent him in his own contract negotiations, because whatever he's getting, they ought to double that. Rozelle does a helluva job at making the owners money and controlling the players. He gets all the owners to agree on everything that restrains the players, and only if you came from another planet could you believe otherwise."
Rozelle accuses Garvey of reneging on agreements, of "trying to take every bite out of the apple" after it has already been divvied up. He also never misses a chance to point out that Garvey attended the "University of Wisconsin in the 1960s," which is 1) a code phrase for crazy, bomb-throwing radical, and 2) an updated version of an older man wagging a finger in a younger man's face and informing him he was in diapers when the older guy was already a sage and a power.
So far, though, Rozelle clearly holds sway. He not only has his constituency clearly behind him, but also, as players' union president Len Hauss ruefully points out, "Some players are so in awe of Rozelle that I've literally seen them fall over each other trying to get close to him and shake his hand." Garvey is a perfect foil for the commissioner, too, and the press remains solidly with the NFL. This is especially true in the crunch, when the players strike, as it seems they will do again in the summer of 1982. Football writers are paid, foremost, to cover football games, and when the union threatens to do away with games, the union should not be surprised about where most writers' sympathies lie.
But in one respect the union and the NFL are at a standoff—at calling each other socialists. They're both about right, too. How strange that pro football—that bastion of free enterprise, of the rugged American hero and entrepreneur—is now surely the safest, most cooperative venture in American commerce. The men who pioneered the NFL were gamblers (literally and otherwise), dreamers, tough cookies, schemers—for all their weaknesses and personal foibles, bold and venturesome men. Bert Bell, Rozelle's immediate predecessor, set the television table for Rozelle. Bell had great vision; he pretty much saw, in fact, what Rozelle would accomplish with the league after his death. With Rozelle, though, what will he turn over to his successor but a schedule of when to call on the networks?
After 20 golden years under Rozelle's command, the NFL is Sunday's mutual fund. Along with the scores every Monday, they ought to give a quotation on the league as a unit: up a quarter, down three-eighths, unchanged, mixed in moderate trading. The people who bet on the games ought to be catered to; they rake more risks than the ones who own the games. All teams share equally in television revenues and those from various other group enterprises. Incidentally, the franchises do not gain extra profit by winning in the post-season play—losers and winners alike share in the playoff games. Indeed, it frequently costs teams money to go to the Super Bowl; that is your punishment for being different, for being one of two winners instead of 26 losers. Whereas home teams keep 100% of the gate in basketball and hockey and 80% in baseball, NFL home teams keep only 60%—and but 50% in exhibitions.
Schedules are doctored in ways so that the weak sisters get to play each other more often, and the better teams knock heads more frequently—thus penalizing them for their efficiency and success. The players union is doing its part in this trend by pressing for strict wage schedules based on seniority, so that talent will count for naught—only seniority. And lest players try to salvage some individuality, the league has established more stringent rules as to how players must wear their uniforms and what numbers they may bear. Teams gain no reward by bidding for free agents, and the commissioner will get none by pressing for black coaches. There is no reason to change anything. Perhaps this is what happens when you take your leader and raise him above the fray. Pretty soon, human nature being what it is, nobody in the organization wants to get down in the trenches and think or act with courage or originality.
But that is not to say the NFL won't keep on getting better and fatter and richer. Under Rozelle, it always has. "It's not just a matter of me being 'good at negotiating,' " he says. "We've delivered. That's what I take pride in. We have always been able to go back and show that we gave what we promised."
For now, then, it would not be wise to be intemperate. The smart money would still say, give the points and take Rozelle.