If all the reports are to be believed, the players and owners are within days, perhaps hours, of agreeing on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. All outstanding lawsuits will be settled, all remaining hatchets will be buried, the NFLPA* will recertify itself as a union, and by week’s end the engines of professional football will crank up and roar to life.
I’ve been mulling this for quite a while. I, as much as any single-team independent blogger, have spilled barrels of ink into the rift between players and owners. The first of those pieces, “The NFL, the NFLPA, the CBA, and Their Fans,” laid out all the issues as I understood them, and my feelings as both a true-blue fan and an educated chronicler:
Pushing Thirty Minivan Me is just that: pushing thirty with a minivan. I’m not pushing fifty with a Harvard MBA, and I’m not pushing twenty with a Rolls Royce Drophead Coupe. I’m not in a position to bear investment risk, or rake in dividends off the profit. I’m the schmuck in line at the gate, ready to part with fistfuls of hard-earned jack I should spend on more important things. I’m the tool with a family of five, all dressed in jerseys on gameday. I’m the fool at the bottom of the pyramid scheme, the rube all this is built upon, the mark they’re all getting rich off of . . .
. . . and I’m the kid in front of the TV set, eyes as big as saucers, watching Barry run. Owners, players, coaches, front office, staff, agents, flaks, and all the rest: please. Remember me. Remember us. Remember who really bears the financial burden here—and ultimately, who really holds the cards. Baseball, 1994? Hockey, 2005? We are the golden goose, and you have your hands around our neck.
Many radical outcomes were foretold: an 18-game regular season, the “unpinning” of the salary cap from revenue, even abolition of the draft! There were frequent public spats between members of each side—even over issues like whether or not upcoming negotiations had been scheduled. The resultant bad blood between players and the league has been disturbing (case in point: James Harrison’s comments about Commissioner Goodell). Yet, soon that’s all supposed to be water under the bridge, as the John Hancocks are applied to a new CBA.
Who won? The biggest winners were the lawyers, and big business (thanks to that 8th Circuit ruling expanding the presumed boundaries of the Norris-LaGuardia Act). The next biggest winners are Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith, each of whom was hired to deliver in this moment. To a lesser extent, everyone who loves the NFL, or makes a living off the NFL, wins: we’ll get our full annual recommended amount of football.
In terms of semantics, the players nearly ran the table. The CBA will arise from a settlement of the Brady v. NFL lawsuit, as presided over by US District Court mediator Arthur Boylen—not collective bargaining sessions with FMCS Director George Cohen. They successfully maintained their decertified trade association status. They kept the money debate focused on a percentage of all monies coming in the door, rather than splitting the hairs of what money “counts” and what doesn’t.
Yet the result of all the semantics—and layoffs, and furloughs, and prematurely induced labors, and eight digits’ worth of lawyer bills—is a tune-up, not an overhaul. Players will receive an smaller piece of the biggest possible pie, continuing the trend started with the 2006 agreement. Rookie salaries will be reigned in, and the savings will go to active and retired veterans. Those retired veterans will be vastly better taken care of, player safety rules clarified, and player health benefits improved. In lieu of an 18-game regular season, there will be a weekly Thursday Night package to wring more TV revenue out of the existing 16-game docket.
In short, the ultimate agreement will look like a very reasonable compromise; this is both good and bad. Good, because it should lay the foundation for another decade or two of labor peace. Bad, because it means the two sides were never really that far apart. All of the grandstanding and caterwauling, all of the doomsaying invective, the lockout and the lawsuit and all the bitter words, it all could have been avoided. I repeatedly begged both sides to do what it took to come to an agreement before the CBA expired—if for no other reason than to respect the investments of the millions of fans making them rich. But no, leverage was protected by any means necessary, and we’ll have a deal in late July that should have been struck in February.
Back in college, I studied an article by a dude named Francis Fukuyama called “The End of History?” Written at the close of the Cold War, it argued that liberal democratic governments, paired with market-based capitalist economies, were the culmination of human history. Once the entire world had converted to representative democracies, History—capital H, meaning the progress of humanity towards liberty and equality of opportunity—would end.
As an extension of this idea, some argued that the Cold War itself was History’s pause button. The two superpowers’ opposing ideologies were holding an entire world in thrall; other countries either aligned themselves with one side or felt immense pressure to do so. All that time the US and USSR stood at loggerheads, viewing the rest of the globe as a giant game of Reversi, and other nations’ political and economic development were stifled. Once the Soviet Union fell many democracies sprung up, China became an economic powerhouse, Korea and India started moving to the forefront of technology and industry, and now we’re in the midst of the Arab Spring.
TO BE CLEAR: I am not equivocating my stepfather’s service in Vietnam to my being really bummed about football. But, I can’t help but feel like the last seven months have been like that for NFL fans. There have been so many sacrifices by and of so many; people have lost their jobs over this. There have been so many feelings hurt, bad blood shared, and regrettable decisions made. Yet, in the aftermath, it feels like it was all a charade. The outcome was inevitable all along, and everyone will pretty much pick back up where they left off.
In light of that, I want to say a few things. First, to Commissioner Roger Goodell, and NFL PR folks Greg Aiello and Brian McCarthy: there were some times I abused the direct pipeline of Twitter. I crossed the line with my real-time emotions on more than one occasion. I’m sorry.
To NFLPA executive director for external affairs George Atallah, many thanks. You were open, honest, transparent, and accessible throughout the process—most especially to new-media types such as myself. I also thank DeMaurice Smith for delivering some classic quotes while defending the players’ interests well.
Special thanks go to the Lions. That includes the players who’ve taken time out to talk about the issues with me—Kyle Vanden Bosch, Lawrence Jackson, Cliff Avril, etc.—and members of the organization who’ve done the same, such as Director of Media Relations Matt Barnhardt. I come out of this experience more convinced than ever that the Lions are a great group of people led by a great group of people, and a classy organization from the top down.
All that’s left is for them to get on the field and play.