WASHINGTON – With the rain came the ugliness.
The negotiations between the NFL and the NFL Players Association took a decidedly nasty turn by Thursday night with league attorney Jeff Pash taking a thinly veiled shot at the union's negotiating tactics and union head DeMaurice Smith ripping right back.
In fact, the NFLPA's executive director was so riled by Pash's remarks that he stopped his commute home, went back to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, stood in the rain and unleashed his reaction.
Pash started the war of words by saying: "It's a process, it's not an event and things can come together quickly, things can fall apart quickly. All I can say is we're committed to the process. It's not glamorous, it's not easy, but we really do believe in the value of collective bargaining. We really do believe in our relationship with the players' association and, 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."
Asked to clarify that, Pash went on to say: "Obviously, we have the commitment; … I'm not suggesting anything about the other side."
That's not how Smith took it.
"Obviously, we saw Jeff Pash's comments, a few moments ago, and instead of driving home, we made a short detour to come back, because I think it's important that everyone and all of our fans understand and know the commitment of our players to this process," Smith said as he was pelted by rain. "[Thursday] we got here at 9 [a.m.]. We had a meeting with non-owners of the National Football League. Our players stood around and waited until 6 [p.m.]. The owners left, and we were told to come back at 10 [a.m. on Friday].
"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 say that they question that. … Look. I understand that there's probably some things that Jeff Pash 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 lock out our fans, lock out our players – even if the games weren't played. "
The obvious implication of that statement is that the NFL worked hard to be ready to lock out the players, an indication that they were prepared to not negotiate.
"When I get ready to leave, I will leave each and every one of you in the media with what we call the decision tree, because this is exactly a document from the National Football League, that 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 party's commitment to the negotiation process, all I would ask is for all of you … stick to the facts."
From there, a Twitter war of insults ensued, featuring NFLPA spokesman George Atallah, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, players, agents and fans.
Atallah got things started by tweeting: "I would like to request an expense credit from the owners on the last 3 hours of my life."
Later, Aiello responded with: "While George is at it, ask him when is union going to respond to our 150 pages of draft CBA provisions …"
All of this should make for some really interesting morning greetings Friday when the sides are scheduled to resume talks with the deadline for the expiration of the CBA looming at 11:59 p.m. ET. Well before that, the union will have to file paperwork decertifying the union, a move that will likely lead to a long, drawn out court battle.
Pash fields questions from the media Thursday.
(Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Of course, this is all part of the problem the two sides have had since they made the mistake of extending the deadline for seven days. During that time, leaks of information from both sides have led to escalating tension.
But Thursday's inactivity may have sent the NFLPA over the edge. Throughout the day, the union (and the players there, in particular) were expecting to have face-to-face interaction with the many owners who showed up from the league's executive committee. Among the owners present were the Dallas Cowboys' Jerry Jones, John Mara of the New York Giants, the Kansas City Chiefs' Clark Hunt, Pat Bowlen of the Denver Broncos, the Pittsburgh Steelers' Art Rooney II, Jerry Richardson of the Carolina Panthers and the Cincinnati Bengals' Mike Brown(notes).
Until now, only Mara, Hunt and Rooney had shown their faces at the most recent sessions with the mediator. That fact increasingly drew the ire of the union, which has felt increasingly disrespected by the failure of the owners to show their faces.
"We're not talking to guys who make decisions," one member of the union's negotiating team said. "The owners have no problem talking to us about our contracts or talking to us after games, but now they won't show their faces, even when they're in the next room. It's [expletive]."