BREAKING NEWS UPDATE: I no sooner finished writing this and word came out that the mediation has concluded for the day and that the next round of talks will not happen until May 16th due to scheduling issues of Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan. In other words, there will be no deal between now and May 16th. Judge Nelson will also rule on the initial hearing regarding the anti-trust lawsuit validity, which will be challenged by the loser in appeals court. What does all this mean? It means that the players, the owners, the league, the lawyers, and the court system just put the start of the season a lot closer to being pushed back given the two sides unwillingness to compromise on anything important.
If we roll back the clock to March, the players filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the league, then returned to mediation with the league to give them an ultimatum even though technically, they had already decertified but hadn’t announced it. DeMaurice Smith, the former NFLPA President, called the final offer from the league and owners, “the worst in professional sports”. Then walked out of the room as he and the others silently thumped their chests.
The league of course responded with the lockout that is now almost a month old and a week shy of the draft.
While some of the lower tier players are signing their names to high interest loans to keep them going, others are starting to take matters into their own hands. It’s been reported today that possibly 70 players are seeking legal council that will put them at the negotiating table to get this matter resolved. According to the report, which didn’t give a lot of detail, these players are not happy with the way the current “non-union” has been handling things and believe that the two sides should never have stopped talking back in March.
With the new rounds of mediation being presided over by Judge Susan Nelson and Magistrate Judge Arthur Boylan, the two sides have to sit at the table. While Mike Vrabel and Ben Leber are present with the “attorneys” and De Smith, noticeably absent are Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady who represent the three big names of the anti-trust lawsuit. It’s really not a huge deal as none of the players have any authority to accept a deal any more than Roger Goodell does for the owners and league. In other words someone has to go to someone else to say “o.k.” which is precisely what Judge Nelson ordered not to happen.
Today, Mike Vrabel may have thrown some gasoline on an already lit fire when he was asked about the 70 or so players seeking a seat at the big kids table for negotiations by responding with this:
“That’s why we’re here. That’s why Ben [Leber] and I are here,” Vrabel said. ”We’re players here to represent players and De works for us. They do (have a seat). And if they’re unhappy with that seat, we have to vote in a new executive committee, and a new board of reps.”
We all know that what he is saying is true. The 11 named plaintiffs are representing 1900 players in this process. It also means they are acting like a union despite the fact they are not a union and as such, it gives the NFL some added fodder to say to Judge Nelson, “see they are still a union and the decertification is a sham”. Which of course it is. We all know it.
But here is the tough pill to swallow. If the players still operate behind closed doors as a union, and they are, then legally, the anti-trust lawsuit is in fact bogus and the decertification is in fact a sham and thus, they should be a union and sitting around a table ironing out every inch of a new CBA. By all legal matters, the players simply are still a union sans the name and thus the league can in fact lock them out. Which means that Judge Nelson shouldn’t grant the players a ruling in their favor. And since this is the reality of the situation, like it or not, the owners have every right to lockout the players who actually used decertification as a method to try and gain the upper hand in this process.
So is this fair to the owners and the league? I mean, if the Judge grants an injunction that ends the lockout, she is acknowledging the decertification to be legal even though the top portion of players that are involved in this case are operating as a union and not as individual plaintiffs. On the other side is the fans. A lifting of the lockout could put players back in facilities, football back on the table, and free agency in the near future.
But is it right? Selfishly we all say yes. That’s it’s about the fans and neither side really gives a hoot about us so we all get football back and they can go on and on with their lawsuit. If the lockout is upheld, then players will still be out of work awaiting an appeal and there is no reason to believe that they would find it in their hearts to faithfully continue negotiations to a resolution. Although it may drive more players into the “70″ fray.
The bottom line is there is a legal issue, a fan issue, and a player issue and while we all want football back again, we are not part of the equation in the overall scheme of things. Despite the fact a lifting of the lockout could bring football back sooner than later, in my opinion it may jeopardize the way the league actually operates. As more than a few media members have said, player council Jeffery Kessler wants all free agency and drafts to go away completely leaving nothing but contracts and then no contracts. While the top 5% may approve, the mid to lower tier players would suddenly find a huge reduction in their salaries.
To stop this now before it goes any longer, my article that is (yes I know it’s long winded), the hope of ending this feud between the league and the players may actually reside in the players that are not named as plaintiffs if they do in fact take this matter into their own hands forcing those that “represent’” them to get something done now rather than later. One thing is for certain. De Smith called the final owners proposal the worst in sport history, but if these players cause a big stir, the league may find their worst offer a lot closer to the final offer that eventually is accepted.