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Players, fans aren't as idiotic as owners think they are

by | CBSSports.com
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"That said, I wouldn't feel any sense of personal loss if, at 11:59:53, metaphorically speaking, the labor/management talks broke down over something weird and stupid, and we were back to, oh, say, quarter to eight."

-- This was me two days ago.

Well, I'll be damned. They beat both "weird" and "stupid," and now it's the middle of July.

-- Me, now.

And when we say that, we exempt Al Davis from what is to come in the next several paragraphs. He, through aide Amy Trask, abstained from signing on to the owners' self-imposed collective bargaining deal with themselves, which I suppose means he declined to vote on something that isn't binding and in a practical way doesn't even exist.

Sounds like a man on top of his game to me.

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The rest of them, well, they managed to pull a fast one so slowly that not only did the NFL Players Association figure it out, the media did too, which means the fans did -- and now the owners look even more galactically disingenuous than ever before. And that's saying something.

By announcing they had agreed to what they called "a settlement," the owners basically tried to bait a hook to catch a fish that is at least as smart as they are. The players, whom the owners thought had been put in an untenable public-relations position, threw it back with such force and contempt that the message could not have been clearer:

"Nice try, morons. Now you'll sit awhile, while we see how long you'll keep swinging in the breeze."

This was yet more proof that the owners believe the players and their elected representatives are truly stupid and unworthy of being negotiated with in good faith. This is a good strategy if in fact you are negotiating with actual stupid people, but if you're wrong, you're the stupid ones.

In short, the owners looked in the mirror to see the reason they can't get a deal done, and poked themselves in the eye when asked to identify the culprits.

Not that we should expect adversaries in a labor dispute to be fully frank and open with each other. The whole idea is not to reach an agreement when competitive people meet in sedentary combat, but to screw the guy across the table as much as you can before he notices.

Which is why what the owners did Thursday by announcing they had agreed with themselves and turned the deal over to the players to ratify what the owners had already declared to be the deal makes no sense. It's called the East German Solution, and as you can tell, there is no longer an East Germany.

The owners just wanted to see if screwing the players would work, with a ploy so pathetically contemptible that it withered in the light of about 20 minutes' exposure. They also thought that since so many media people have been rooting openly for any kind of settlement just so they can have their games back, they would misreport it as a deal and put the players in a PR vise.

Some did. Most didn't. It helped that the players were tweeting "Like hell we have" even before Roger Goodell finished his agreement press conference. And now the deal is damaged because the players know yet again that the owners are utterly untrustworthy to such an extent that even people who don't like unions can smell the odor.

Now that, kids, is stupid.

The Hall of Fame Game is gone now, which is good, and probably a couple of weeks of exhibition games as well, which is even better. "Better" because lessons must be learned from this cheap little stunt, and the first one is that the owners don't have the hammer when the product is the players they're taking swings at.

The second, of course, is that people in general aren't as idiotic as the owners think they are. That's a schooling that will come at a dear price as well.

And the third is, maybe all the people rooting openly for a deal, any deal, will finally see that "any deal" isn't good enough anymore. Distrust is in bloom, and recriminations will be ugly and lasting.

Let the angels sing.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com.

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