When Chester Pitts heard the words come from a quarterback who might enter the Hall of Fame one day, a large knot formed in his gut. He couldn't believe what Kurt Warner said. He just couldn't believe it.
Warner, in an interview with USA Today, said in effect that the players should begin to stand down now in this brutal labor dispute because eventually they'll have to give in anyway.
|Chester Pitts is a late bloomer as a player -- and as an aspiring lawyer. (US Presswire)|
"There were a lot of players I spoke to who were stunned by what he said," said Pitts, the Seattle Seahawks' veteran offensive guard. "I was disappointed. Disappointed is a good word, but disheartening is a better word.
"What makes this country great is everyone is entitled to their opinion. Not all the players are in lockstep. We have disagreements, but it's disingenuous for Kurt to say those things now that he's retired and wealthy. Not every player is wealthy, and certainly not every retired player has a lot of money."
If you haven't heard of Pitts, then you haven't been paying attention. He has emerged as one of the more unique voices of the labor dispute. He's many times sarcastic, occasionally blunt, a fake crank caller and always intelligent. In a wide-ranging interview, Pitts touched on a number of subjects and was, well, uniquely Pitts.
On Roger Goodell, commissioner: "I think he tends to be tone deaf. He doesn't understand players."
On the NFL owners: "Their main strategy is to delay as long as they can and hope we run out of money. They have no real interest in negotiating right now no matter what they say publicly."
On quarterback Drew Brees: "His leadership is amazing. Drew doesn't have to do what he's doing, but he's doing it because it's the right thing. He has a lot of guts."
On what he thinks the fight is all about: "If corporate America can crush thousands of professional athletes, what chance does an average employee have?"
Then Pitts delivered this. You need to pay special attention, because his words, I think, represent the mindset of many NFL players:
"Most players are approaching this fight with the long term in mind," Pitts said. "This is a marathon, not a sprint. Most players feel this way. They're in this for the long fight. As long as it takes.
"There's this perception that the players should capitulate now. We're not suddenly going to start begging the owners. We understand what's at stake just like the owners do. Some of the owners underestimate us. There is far more resolve among the player base than the owners know."
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Resolve won't thin, players say, until game checks are missed, and game checks wouldn't theoretically be missed until September. In the meantime, they say the plan is to fight like hell.
Pitts is highly respected by many of his peers, star and grunt alike. He's deeply connected with both high ranking members of the trade association and those who don't feel the twinge of union solidarity. He speaks to numerous players, obviously those on the Seahawks, but also many from other teams. When I asked several players privately about Pitts, each said he was one of the more trustworthy and liked in the league. They listen to him, seeing Pitts as fearless and unafraid to take on Goodell directly, and if there's one thing that's crystallized during this lockout, it's that many players aren't fans of the commissioner. Actually, saying players aren't fans of Goodell is like saying Sarah Palin isn't a fan of Katie Couric. Pitts became almost a cult hero to some in the sport after he called Goodell a "fraud" and NFL lawyer Jeff Pash a "consistent turd."
Pitts has spent 10 years in football as an offensive lineman, meaning he's been bloodied enough to earn respect despite his unconventional entrance into the NFL. Ephraim Salaam was a one-time teammate with the Houston Texans, but before that, Salaam was a three-year starter at San Diego State when he walked into a local grocery store over a decade ago to do some shopping. He immediately spotted the 6-foot-5 Pitts, sporting a nice pair of glasses and bagging groceries.
In high school, Pitts didn't play football, because there was no football program. Instead he played the oboe and excelled at math and science. Pitts was carrying Salaam's groceries to the car, and on the way Salaam implored Pitts to walk onto the San Diego State team. Pitts was hesitant until he saw Salaam's black Corvette and then decided Salaam was right. (Well, that's one version of the story. Pitts insists he was already considering trying out for the team, and the story has grown as the years passed.)
What's certain is that Pitts developed into a solid NFL player, and later an outspoken critic of Goodell and the owners. Now he's as important a player in this fight as almost anyone.
As the lockout continues like an unending desert, Pitts is using these months to begin a track that he one day hopes will end with law school. He's done something even more important. "I've spent more time with my little boy this offseason than I have the last four years of his life," he said.
And with that one of the smartest guys in sports signed off. Ignore him at your own peril.