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INSULTS AND BRINKMANSHIP
Labor relations in sports can take strange twists and turns. NBA and major league baseball owners lavish huge salaries on their players even as they solemnly insist they can't afford to do so. In the NFL, on the other hand, the owners concede that they can afford bigger salaries but refuse to shell them out. Expressing the hope that an impending players' strike could be averted, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle recently offered assurances that "there is enough money to be carved up" between owners and players, an incontrovertible fact in view of the league's new five-year, $2.1 billion TV contract. And Washington Redskin Chairman Jack Kent Cooke has publicly allowed that "in my opinion, the players deserve more money, perhaps much more money than they're presently getting."
So why aren't they getting it? Last week, four days before the opening of the 1982 season, the NFL Management Council sought to break its collective-bargaining impasse with the NFL Players Association by making an offer that it said would give players more than $600 million in "new money." As the council outlined it, $40 million of that sum would be in the form of benefit increases, $126 million would come in "career-adjustment" bonuses and $475 million more in salary increases, a figure the council arrived at by assuming that salaries would continue to go up by the 15% a year they had in recent years. The council also offered to relax restrictions on free agency a bit, although not nearly as much as they've been eased in the NBA and in baseball. NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey promptly rejected the proposal, which he called an "insult."
The NFL's offer wasn't as generous as it may have seemed. The proposed bonus arrangement called for immediate payment of $10,000 to every present NFL player for each year of service from 1977 to 1982 and an additional $10,000 bonus for each year of service from 1983 to 1986—up to a maximum $100,000 per player. But Garvey, noting that the average NFL career is just 4.2 years, claims that no more than 5% of all current players would stand to collect the full $100,000. Also, there's no assurance that future NFLers would get a significant piece of the action. Nor would there be anything to prevent clubs from compensating for the bonus outlays by being stingier when it came to giving raises, notwithstanding management's assumption that such raises would continue to average 15% a year. "They're saying they've improved the free-agent system," says Garvey. "Then they're saying salaries will continue to rise at 15%. If they've improved the system, shouldn't the salaries go up higher?" As for the assumption that salaries will continue to rise at 15%, Garvey says, "They tell us, 'Trust us,' but they don't guarantee anything."
If the NFL owners really mean what they say about players deserving more money, they should provide it—with guarantees. Instead, they continue to practice a form of brinkmanship underscored when Management Council Executive Director Jack Donlan coyly described his side's new proposal as "very close to where we're going to go," the implication being that the council was still withholding its best offer. Instead of making the players knuckle under, this risky strategy has steadily strengthened the resolve of a union that until now hasn't been particularly unified.
The NFLPA has threatened a wholesale walkout as early as next week and no later than Oct. 3, but it's a measure of the membership's growing unease that the Seattle Seahawks nearly took it upon themselves to strike Sunday's season opener against Cleveland because of their conviction, right or wrong, that Wide Receiver Sam McCullum had been waived as the result of his activities as the club's player representative. Another indication of rank-and-file resoluteness came when several members of the Houston Oilers, given copies of the new management offer, burned them in the club's locker room. Unless the owners soon change their ill-conceived bargaining tactics, the next thing to go up in smoke could be the 1982 NFL season.
Alzek Misheff, a 42-year-old Bulgarian-born artist who lives in Milan, puts himself into his work with a vengeance. Acting on his view that "every artist creates his own show, be it with canvas or performance," Misheff on one occasion donned huge plastic wings and suspended himself by pulleys high above a meadow to create a work called How to Fly With Fins. For an artwork-event entitled The Mole, he burrowed into a heap of paper balls meant to represent the earth. Then there's something called The Fire in which Misheff proposes to wear a flame-retardant costume and set himself ablaze on stage. That's still in "the project stage" because, as Misheff gingerly puts it, The Fire "has too many aspects which recall the concept of danger."
In addition to air, earth and fire, Misheff has celebrated a fourth element, water. Although he claims to have been an accomplished middle-distance runner as a youth, he now spends almost as much time swimming as he does on terra firma. "With swimming, I've found the perfect way to balance my life and my work," he says. One of Misheff's earliest plunges into what might be called aquatic art was a performance entitled The Swimming Pool; the artist simply swam for an hour in a small portable pool, after which the audience was served 44 pounds of Bulgarian beans. That was followed by Blowing Bubbles in which, as Misheff described it in his book, My Lies, he used liquid soap to blow bubbles in a tank and then asked the audience to do the same. All this was preparatory to Misheff's masterwork, Swimming Across the Atlantic. What this involved, it turned out, was nothing more heroic than Misheff's swimming in a pool aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 as the ship crossed from Southampton to New York last month on its first passenger voyage following its service in the Falklands war. Misheff built up to the QE2 crossing by staging a dozen related happenings, including exhibitions of his paintings and a theatrical piece in Milan, The Aquatic Cocktail Party, during which he swam two laps underwater, then was joined in the pool by a formally dressed waiter who served him champagne.
For the QE2 voyage, Misheff was carried aboard the ship in a blue tub—"a goldfish in a bowl" is how he described himself. He swam in the quarterdeck pool for two to four hours a day, using only the butterfly stroke. This is the most demanding stroke and also, according to Misheff, "the most beautiful." There was a storm during the crossing, and he says, "Everyone else was taking seasick pills, but the water calmed me. I moved with it, not against it." During fair weather, other passengers joined him in the pool, and they received a diploma signed by Misheff signifying that they, too, had swum across the Atlantic.