When Steve Jordan watches his son, Cameron, take the slow, sweet walk up to the Radio City Music Hall stage later this month, the former Minnesota Vikings tight end will swell with pride. And when Cam, a former Cal defensive lineman projected as a mid-first-round selection in the upcoming NFL draft, gets his obligatory handshake from commissioner Roger Goodell, his conflicted father will experience another, less savory sensation.
"Part of me," Steve Jordan admitted Monday night, "is going to cringe."
As elated as the six-time Pro Bowler might be for his son's ceremonial coronation as a pro football player, Jordan, a former NFL Players Association vice president and executive committee member who experienced his share of labor strife, is also among those who question the logic of incoming rookies participating in a draft spectacle during a lockout. While he didn't go so far as to insist that Cam decline the league's invitation, Steve perceives the prospective handshake as a disingenuous and symbolic show of solidarity during a tumultuous time.
"I'm really disappointed in terms of what's going on with the kids and the draft," Jordan says. "I understand that it really is a big thing to be drafted, and to have an opportunity to go to New York is a cool thing for some kids. But walking across the stage to shake hands with the commissioner, the guy who's basically working against you – it's pretty ironic. You're going to shake his hand, and he's going to tell you, 'Congratulations, welcome to the league, you're locked out. And by the way, don't get injured between now and whenever we play again, or you'll be out of luck.' "
Those who recall Jordan's impressive 13-year career with the Vikings and his active union involvement probably aren't surprised by his sentiments. A Brown graduate who spent his NFL offseasons working as a civil engineer (he's now employed by a construction management and real-estate development firm in the Phoenix area), Jordan experienced a player strike during his rookie season in 1982 and again five years later, when he was the Vikings' player rep. In the early '90s he was part of one of the many antitrust lawsuits that led to a landmark collective bargaining agreement which brought unrestricted free agency to the NFL.
Jordan, who remains well-versed in union matters, has been struck by the many parallels he sees between the previous labor standoff and the current one.
"I was on the lawsuit in Minnesota [after] we decertified the first time, and some of the same things are happening that happened 20 years ago," Jordan says. "Certain things were very disappointing, and it's almost like a replay."
Specifically, Jordan cites the "11th-hour negotiations [by the owners], which is a classic move. Then there's the propaganda they're spewing out, saying things like they were willing to increase retired-player pensions by 60 percent, when you know that didn't apply across the board, or that a rookie wage scale would allow them to make as much as or more than they make today, when it's not even close.
"Also, those of us familiar with labor law know that whenever you negotiate to impasse, management is allowed to impose its last, best offer – which is how we got Plan B free agency back in the day. Then you see teams getting inside information from players who I think are company people. And, of course, there's the whole decertification scenario."
Jordan says he has a "comfort level" with the union's decision to decertify but concedes that "for the young guys, there's got to be some trepidation. There's no guarantee that it will play out the same way this time."
As for the prospect that the recent resumption of negotiations under the supervision of a federal magistrate could lead to a settlement, Jordan is highly skeptical: "I seriously doubt there's going to be much movement or change. When the judge says, 'You really do need to get back to the table and do some earnest negotiating,' while I applaud her for doing that, there really haven't been substantial negotiations to this point, so I wonder if it's a waste of time.
"To show you how much things have degraded, they couldn't even agree on where to go for mediation. They blew three days deciding on that? Wow.
"The truth is there's been a negotiation opportunity for the last two years, and very little progress. I think the owners have been masterful in terms of what they've been saying [publicly], but not reasonable in terms of what they've been offering."
Given those opinions, Jordan was somewhat disappointed when the NFLPA backed off on plans to counter-program the draft with a competing event that might have drawn many of the top prospects away from Radio City. However, he says he can appreciate executive director DeMaurice Smith's reasoning that such a move could have been used against the union in arguments that its decertification was a sham.
"I understand the realities of it from a legal standpoint," Jordan says. "I think we had to back away. When you get into this level of competition and the stakes are pretty high, you don't want to jeopardize your ability to be successful. The biggest win in the situation was De saying, 'Let's just question this.' We all think the status quo is a good thing, and for De to come out and question it at least got people discussing the issue."
Jordan's own draft experience carried much less fanfare. Actually, it carried none. The Ivy Leaguer wasn't invited to the Senior Bowl or NFL scouting combine and spent what was then a two-day, 12-round draft holed up in his apartment in Providence, R.I., unsure of where he might be picked.
"There were no cell phones, of course, so you had to be by a land line," Jordan recalls. "And being at an Ivy League school, I needed that time to study. I'd heard I'd go anywhere from the third round to being an undrafted free agent, and on the second day, in the seventh round, I got a call from [legendary Vikings coach] Bud Grant. He told me they'd drafted me and asked if I had any questions, and I said no. Then I hung up and thought of one: Where is Minnesota?"
When Cameron got his draft invitation earlier this month, Steve's initial reluctance gave way to resignation. "Part of what happens is that a lot of these guys have been working out together at places like API in Phoenix, and really since the Senior Bowl," Steve says. "They've been texting and communicating on Facebook, and they've gotten to be pretty good buds and forged a competitive camaraderie. Cam is really bonded with guys like [Blaine] Gabbert and Marcell [Dareus]. And now they're all talking about going to New York, and it's kind of a groundswell: 'We've all been through this 80-pound gorilla of a process, so let's hang out together one last time.' "
So come draft night, the proud papa will bite his lip, soak in the spectacle with wife Anita and their two other children and look forward to what he hopes will be a long and fulfilling career for Cam.
"The bottom line is that my son has been aspiring to this for a long time, and I don't want him to have a tainted view of it coming in," Jordan says. "Don't get me wrong – he's educated. I've told him the history. He knows about the strikes and the lawsuits and some of the things that went on. He's an astute guy. He understands what it is.
"But I don't want him to come in and be The Crusader because of what I went through. I want him to take the values we've given him – a sense of what's right and wrong – and then decide what to fight for on his own."
- Steve Jordan