This week, NFL team player representatives and alternates will meet in Washington for orientation for new reps. After taking care of some other business the players will head up to Capitol Hill to meet with our elected representatives. They will lobby to convince Senators and members of the House that they are on the right side of their labor dispute and that the issue is worth of the attention of a Congress that has a very full plate dealing with deficits, health care, unemployment, and a myriad of other issues.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday some NFL owners will meet in Atlanta for their monthly powwow to craft their strategy as we sit 56 days before the labor contract between the league and the NFL Players Association is schedule to expire.
What is wrong with this picture?
The last time that the owners and the NFLPA sat down for a negotiating session was on Nov. 22, almost two months ago. With the clock ticking towards a lockout, we have one group meeting in Atlanta and another one meeting in Washington.
How about meeting each other halfway, folks, and getting together in, say, Charlotte?
Instead of negotiating face to face, the two sides are involved in a war of words through the media and, at least when it comes to the NFLPA, lawmakers.
Get a load of this exchange, typical of what passes for learned discourse in this situation, between Bob Batterman, one of the league’s hired legal guns, and George Atallah, the union’s primary spokesman.
Batterman, who sold his legal talents to the National Hockey League owners in 2004-2005, the years that the labor dispute ended up cancelling the entire NHL season, tried to make the case that the players want a lockout so that they can litigate a settlement.
"This is not a union eager to avoid a lockout. This is a union waiting for a lockout to occur,” Batterman said.
Atallah, who represents an organization that has failed disastrously in two previous player work stoppages, said that Batterman’s remarks "come from the person that effectuated a year-long lockout for the NHL. These comments are irrelevant to the process. The owners will either let the players play or give us a good reason why they can't."
Atallah hit home only with the middle part of his comment, the part about the comments being irrelevant to the process. So are the “Lockout Central” page on the NFLPA website and the league’s NFL labor site. So is Jerry Jones saying on 60 Minutes that he did not think that a lockout would be a disaster for the sport. So was the heated rhetoric that came from the player in response.
It’s all irrelevant. The only thing that is relevant is actual face to face negotiations to figure out how to split up billions of dollars. And those aren’t happening.
I’m sure I speak for most fans when I say that this PR war of words simply isn’t working. It’s only deepening the disgust that is developing for both sides in the dispute.
In a recent NFLPA conference call with the media, another favorite tool to try to conduct negotiations through the press, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita said, "There are so many things now — with player health and safety, and the future of us and our families — that aren't even being considered. And for us, it's disappointing. It feels like a slap in the face."
Well, guess what Scott—maybe if the union sat down and talked to the negotiators face to face, maybe they could address such issues.
Until then, it is the fans who are being slapped the face with the tactics of both sides, which more closely resemble taunts is a sandbox full of second graders than constructive discourse that might actually get this thing settled.
In others words, shut up and negotiate.