Matched against anyone else, the NFL players association could easily be the bad guy. The NFLPA is a loser like Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who made $24.6 million for his 16 tackles last season. It's Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who caught 26 passes and made $21.4 million in 2010, and it's Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, who made $10.5 million for throwing 20 interceptions -- and then announced he would quit before being subjected to such conditions in Cincinnati.
The NFLPA isn't easy to like, and I'm not going to try. But the players do have one thing going for them:
They aren't the owners.
|DeMaurice Smith has the union on the verge of decertification. (AP)|
The players have a history of caving, but this time seems different. They have a new union boss, DeMaurice Smith, who looks the part of the tough guy and talks it, too, declaring this to be "war." The union is prepared to decertify before the CBA expires Thursday at 11:59 p.m., which could prevent the owners from locking them out. And the union has socked away money for this rainy day, with a strike fund of undistributed marketing royalties ready to go.
Am I being naïve? Probably so. But rooting naively for the players means rooting against an ownership group that includes Al Davis and Mike Brown. Bud Adams and Jerry Jones. Bill Bidwill. If the owners win, Dan Snyder wins. Think about that.
The owners have earned all the dislike I can muster, but two news stories in recent weeks have made it worse. First, the Super Bowl ticket fiasco, where the NFL tried to shoehorn fans into seats that weren't available and then low-balled those who were left out of Cowboys Stadium with an insulting settlement offer. Next, the suicide of Dave Duerson. The former Bears safety became the latest ex-player to commit suicide, doing it in such a way -- a gunshot to the chest -- that would allow his brain to be studied for trauma.
Using Duerson's demise against the owners is an emotional tug that isn't completely fair. I acknowledge that. But there's no way -- no way for me, anyway -- to separate the final lesson of Dave Duerson from this labor dispute. Playing in the NFL causes catastrophic damage to the body and brain, yet the owners are trying to milk two more games out of the players. They want to play 18 games a season, plus the playoffs. A Super Bowl team would play 21 or 22 games a year. That is insane.
The owners aren't insane, just greedy. And they've rigged the system at both ends to beat the union. For starters, the owners finagled their network partners -- like my employer -- for all that TV money whether there's a season or not. That gives the owners maximum financial leverage.
Remember how I said the players had set aside a strike fund for just such a rainy day? Forget it. It's a pathetic amount -- an umbrella in a monsoon. It's $59,000 for veteran players, but less for the younger guys who need it most. Compare that to the $200 million in payroll the players probably won't be paid on Friday.
Sweet deal for the owners, this whole work stoppage. In addition to saving that $200 million Friday, and saving hundreds of millions more as the stoppage drags on, they'll also collect nearly $4 billion in TV money for the 2011 season.
Whether there's a season or not.
In addition to having all the financial leverage, owners are making the union negotiate in the dark. They're telling the union they lost money under the current CBA, but they won't prove it. Even politicians are appalled by that maneuver, with West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller -- an oil heir said to be worth more than $80 million -- urging owners to play fair and open their books to the union.
And Rockefeller is cut from the same cloth as the owners, more than half of whom inherited their fortune or their team, or married into the money that made purchasing a team possible. The Halas family, the Hunts, the Maras, the Bidwills ... they're not fighting for their piece of the cake. They were born eating cake and they'll eat cake until the day they die -- but they want to eat more than ever, and they want it served to them in their temperature-controlled luxury suite while the labor concusses itself on the field below.
And if the stadium isn't full because tickets are expensive and the team stinks and the economy is down, well, owners have an answer for that, too: They'll black out the games on local TV.
What comes around, goes around, Mr. and Mrs. NFL Owner. People like me don't root for people like you. I'd rather step on a snake. Or root for one.