NFL & NFLPA Mediation: The Wait for White Smoke

>> 2.21.2011

The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to mediation, as I’m sure you’ve probably heard. For four days—and, if all goes according to plan, three more—the two sides have been holed up with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, negotiating with the assistance of FMCS director George H. Cohen. Cohen comes with an impeccable pedigree. A former Georgetown law professor, he taught (during Martin Mayhew’s study there) “The Art of Collective Bargaining,” amongst other courses. Last year at this time, Cohen resolved a seemingly-unresolvable dispute between MLS players and owners. The last negotiation between the two sides had ended “acrimoniously,” and the threat of a lockout hung in the air. Yet, Cohen brought the MLS and its players to an agreement.

Landon Donovan weighed in on Cohen:

The guy is a stud. Hope he can help RT @TaylorTwellman: very interesting to hear MLS CBA facilitator...George Cohen will mediate NFL CBA

An interesting note, one of the NFLPA’s executive committee members—the guys on the players’ side of the table—might look familiar to Lions fans:

Charlie Batch, former Detroit Lion, current NFLPA Executive Committee member

In fact, Batch is the only one on either side who’s made anything resembling a substantive remark about the progress of the talks:

"Things are going well," said Batch, a member of the NFL Players Association executive committee. "We'll see how things progress over the coming days."

Yes, thanks to the mutually-agreed-upon media silence during the talks, nobody has any real idea about what is happening in there. Is substantive progress being made? Is a deal realistically reachable in time? Will Patriots owner Bob Kraft’s quote from two weeks ago, “we could do this deal next week,” be proven true? Or, is this all a sham, a circus intended to appease us? Are the owners negotiating in bad faith to make it look like they’re negotiating in good faith, thereby enabling them to declare an impasse and impose their will?

It reminds me of how they elect a new Pope. For those who don’t know, all of the Cardinals sequester themselves in the Sistine Chapel, and they nominate, debate, and vote while the world waits outside. Every time they take a vote, they burn the ballots—and if the vote fails to produce a new pope, they mix straw in with the papers to produce a thick black smoke. So, black smoke means no new pope. White smoke means new pope. Sometimes, the papal election can take a while:

Back in the 13th century it took almost three years to install a new pope. After the death of Pope Clement IV, who died in 1268, church officials became involved in a bitter political struggle and many refused to vote. Finally, in effort to break the stalemate, the cardinals were fed only bread and water. The roof of the building they were staying in was removed. The desperate measures worked, because a new pope was soon elected.

I'm not suggesting we take away the NFL and NFLPA’s sub sandwiches, or the roof off of the FMCS. But this has got to get done—for the good of the league, for the good of the players, for the good of the fans, and for the good of all the local economies that depend on the NFL. Meanwhile, good reporters like’s Albert Breer are stationed outside the FMCS offices, reporting even the faintest wisp of smoke on Twitter for the millions waiting on the good news.

Technorati Tags: nfl,nflpa,nfl collective bargaining agreement,nfl mediation,nfl cba,charlie batch,detroit lions


Anonymous,  February 23, 2011 at 1:37 PM  

NFL shoulda gone to Kate. This thing would be done already.

Ty,  February 24, 2011 at 9:43 AM  

Or Wapner.


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