Can't really pick a side in NFL labor fiasco

March 19, 2011 

An acquaintance asked me this week which side I was on in the pro football labor dispute: owners or players?

"Just like Congress, both sides are to blame," I replied. And there is a lot of blame to spread around.

As with politics, I am disgusted with all parties.

But most of all, I am disappointed with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. I thought that unlike baseball commissioner Bud Selig, he represented the players and fans as well as the owners.

Events over the past few weeks reveal how naive I am.

Goodell has let the labor hawks like Jerry Jones take over a league that reached new heights of television ratings last season. Greed prevails and fans are footing the bill.

It kind of reminds me of 1994 when baseball owners, with Selig in command, demanded a salary cap and the players walked out in August. The strike lasted 234 days and the World Series was canceled.

The NFL owners aren't that dumb. The Super Bowl will be played next February.

However, I am not as certain -- as I was a couple of months ago -- that there will be a full 16-game season this year.

Now that the dispute is in the lawyers' hands, look out. It seems like there is a new lawsuit filed by one side or the other every day.

Talks between the owners and NFL Players' Association broke off last Friday, the 16th day of mediation. The union dissolved that afternoon, allowing players to file a class-action antitrust suit. The owners then locked out the players.

April 6 is the next big court date, when a federal judge will hear the players' request for an injunction to stop the lockout.

But this is just the beginning of the costly process that has the lawyers drooling as they anticipate an opportunity to fill their pockets.

Early in the negotiations things looked promising as the players and owners met with mediator George Cohen. But then on March 2, according to Sports Illustrated, the tenor changed thanks to Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys.

SI writer Jim Trotter reports that what Jones said at the meeting "helped steer the situation past the point of no return."

According to Trotter, here's how it went:

"I don't think we've got your attention," Jones said to players. "You clearly don't understand what we're saying. So I guess we're going to have to show you to get your attention."

Jones tapped his fists together for emphasis -- the players interpreted it as a sign that a lockout was coming -- then stood and walked toward the door.

"I thought everyone in the room thought it was overly dramatic, almost hilarious," one player told Trotter. "I know it didn't scare any of us."

Keep in mind that this is the same Jerry Jones who just last month sold Super Bowl seats that were still under construction and then ruled unsafe at kickoff time in his new billion dollar stadium.

On the other hand, I have very little sympathy for the demands of players union loyalists. Why should the owners open their books to prove they are really hurting? I don't know of many companies that give that information to their employees.

NFL players never had it so good. They make more money, have more benefits and more opportunities outside of football than ever before.

I do hope the players will stick with their objections to adding two regular-season games to the schedule. This is just a ploy by the owners to increase the price of season tickets at the physical peril of the players.

The fans don't need it and don't want it. If Goodell was really looking out for the interest of the fans and the long-term health of the players, he would reduce preseason games from four to two and stick with a 16-game regular season.

Enough is enough, and I mean that in more ways than one.

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