April 26, 2011
The NFL was pretty clearly hurt and confused by Judge Susan Nelson's ruling Monday that (at least temporarily) lifted the lockout. So flummoxed is the league that the only thing Roger Goodell could think to do was to write a bemoaning, "Oh, woe is me," op-ed to the Wall Street Journal.
Reading it was sad and off-putting. Goodell always seems so in control, so relaxed and so in-charge of the situation, and in this letter, he sounds like a rejected boyfriend, writing "I'm going to kill myself" poetry to the lady who rejected him. "Is this really what you want, baby? Don't you see, this is killing both of us! Come back to me, or I'll stick my head in the oven, and life will be ruined forever for everyone!"
Since, ostensibly, this is Goodell trying to talk to the fans, I thought I'd respond, seeing as how I'm one of those fans he wanted to reach. You're welcome, commissioner.
For six weeks, there has been a work stoppage in the National Football League as the league has sought to negotiate a new collective-bargaining agreement with the players. But Judge Nelson ordered the end of the stoppage and recognized the players' right to dissolve their union. By blessing this negotiating tactic, the decision may endanger one of the most popular and successful sports leagues in history.
Gasp! This could endanger the NFL?! What's it going to do, shut the league down?! What kind of a monster would do that?
Oh, wait. That's what you did. From what I can tell, the league was shut down Monday, and was open Tuesday.
What would the NFL look like without a collectively bargained compromise? For many years, the collectively bargained system—which has given the players union enhanced free agency and capped the amount that owners spend on salaries—has worked enormously well for the NFL, for NFL players, and for NFL fans.
For clubs and fans, the trade-off afforded each team a genuine opportunity to compete for the Super Bowl, greater cost certainty, and incentives to invest in the game. Those incentives translated into two dozen new and renovated stadiums and technological innovations such as the NFL Network and nfl.com.
Fair enough. We did like those things and would hate to see them go. I'm even willing to ignore that those new stadiums you speak of are usually paid for, at least in part, by taxpayers currently experiencing the most difficult financial times of their lives.
Under this vision, players and fans would have none of the protections or benefits that only a union (through a collective-bargaining agreement) can deliver. What are the potential ramifications for players, teams, and fans? Here are some examples:
Some of the examples listed include no draft, players signing wherever they wanted out of college, no minimum payroll, the possibility that injured players won't have any guarantees, the possibility that players wouldn't get benefits, and an NBA-like scenario where star players are funneled to the same teams LeBron-style.
You know what that reminds me of? A politician painting a worst-case-scenario picture in an effort to get people on his side by scaring them. Manipulation through fear, disguised as public relations.
Those Armageddon scenarios Goodell speaks of? They won't happen. The league doesn't want it, the players don't want it, and a long line of unlikely things would still have to happen before we got there. We're closer to it today than we were yesterday, sure, but we're still not close to that. It won't happen. You don't have to be scared.
And I'll say this for Goodell's super-scary scenario: Under it, at least people would be playing football.
Prior to filing their litigation, players and their representatives publicly praised the current system and argued for extending the status quo. Now they are singing a far different tune, attacking in the courts the very arrangements they said were working just fine.
The current system again? Man. You really seem to love that thing these days. If that system was so wonderful, why'd you opt out of it?
Is this the NFL that fans want? A league where carefully constructed rules proven to generate competitive balance—close and exciting games every Sunday and close and exciting divisional and championship contests—are cast aside? Do the players and their lawyers have so little regard for the fans that they think this really serves their interests?
... and there it is. My least favorite thing about all of this: Either side playing the "WHAT ABOUT THE FANS?!" card, as if either side is motivated by what fans want.
And don't blame it on the evil lawyers, either; like the NFL is above using something as cretinous as a lawyer. I'm supposed to believe that all of the league's negotiating is done by a simple country farmer who loves his mother, donates fresh apples to the homeless and recites the Pledge of Allegiance every morning?
And to answer your question, is this really what NFL fans want? What we wanted was for you people to sit down, honestly negotiate in good faith, find compromises and work out a system that divides our $9 billion so that nobody gets to cry poor to the very people that made that $9 billion possible.
That's still what we want, and it can still happen, so maybe it's time to stop writing whiny letters and start thinking about real compromise towards a new collective bargaining agreement.
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