After more than two weeks of gag orders and hope that the owners and players might be able to work things out, things started to get ugly yesterday based on the one issue that was bound to cause tension — the amount of financial disclosure the owners were willing to provide in order to make the players understand why the NFL's current business model is unsustainable. The owners offered five years of profitability data, but the NFLPA was asking for detailed and audited books from all 32 teams.
That's how talks broke off on Wednesday — after both sides went back at it in Washington D.C. on Thursday, the sense of professionalism and relative good will went right out the window after the players were reportedly not allowed to meet with the nine owners in attendance. When he left the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Group headquarters after Thursday's talks, NFL lead counsel Jeff Pash had this to say:
We've been here as you know since about 9:30 this morning, and we'll be back tomorrow morning — or, if the mediator calls us, we'll be back this evening. He knows we're available at any time he thinks it's appropriate. Everyone knows what the calendar is, and everyone knows what's potentially on the table tomorrow. As long as the mediators want to keep the process going, we're here and ready to work.
That sounded fine; like the standard replies we've been getting from both sides for the last couple weeks through this process. However, when Pash was asked whether he thought things were moving quickly and well enough to avoid union decertification and a long trip to the courts for everyone involved, he unleashed this little grenade:
I've said it many times — if both sides have an equal commitment to getting this deal done, it will get done. I don't know if both sides have an equal commitment. You've heard plenty of what I've heard as well. If that's the case — if both sides are committed — there's a deal to be made.
According to the Associated Press, NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith was so vexed when he heard about Pash's comments (especially after sending his side home at 6:30 p.m. after a promised 5:00 call to re-engage in talks never came), he actually popped a U-turn back to the building to talk with reporters (The NFL Network ran a heavily edited version of Smith's comments, thanks to Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe for the full version).
Obviously we saw Jeff Pash's comments a few moments ago and instead of driving home (I decided to talk address) the commitment of our players to this process....We had staff meetings with non-owners of the National Football League. Our players stood around and waited until 6 o'clock. The owners left and we were told to come back at 10 a.m. (tomorrow). We're committed to this process. We have been committed to this process. But for anyone to stand and turn to the American people and question that…Look, I understand that there's probably some things Jeff Pash just has to say. But this is the truth. We know that as early as March of 2009 from the discovery in the television case that the National Football League engaged in a strategy to get $4 billion of television money to lockout our fans and lockout our players even if the games weren't played….(The court decision) talks about how they were going to go about securing television money and I quote, "for cash during a lockout." So with all due respect, when someone wants to stand up and say that he questions or doubts one parties commitment to the negotiation process, all I would ask is for all of you…to stick to the facts and take the document. We're going to be back here tomorrow because we want football to continue."
And from that little media slapfight came this twitter exchange between Greg Aiello of the NFL and George Atallah of the NFLPA (Atallah's comment via Bob Glauber of Newsday):
George Atallah: "If owners continue to ? players' commitment to negotiations, we're prepared 2 make public all our unanswered proposals."
And this gem from Atallah himself:
I would like to request an expense credit from the owners on the last 3 hours of my life.
Which prompted Aiello to take this tack:
While George is at it, ask him when is union going to respond to our 150 pages of draft CBA provisions ...
Atallah also sent an e-mail to the Associated Press that went a little something like this: "Jeff Pash was part of an executive team that sold the networks a $4 billion ticket to a game they knew wouldn't be played. The only thing they've been committed to is a lockout."
As for Smith, he left it this way on Twitter with the players he represents:
Players stay strong! Stay informed, update by 2pm tomorrow.
As it stands now, and without a further extension, the players must file for decertification tomorrow, as the league year ends. Talks seem to have degraded to the level of a second-grade sandbox fight, and things do not look promising at all right now, but it's important to remember that these types of negotiations are generally solved at the eleventh hour (and then some).
We'll just have to see what happens as the ticking of the clock gets louder.