ATLANTA -- The great statesman Winston Churchill once noted that having to eat his own words once in a while, thankfully, never gave him indigestion.
Good thing, if true, for NFL players such as Derrick Mason, Chester Pitts and James Harrison. Those three -- Mason labeled Roger Goodell a "joke," Pitts termed the commissioner a "fraud" and Harrison likened him to the "devil" -- among others may have to grasp at excuses to explain away their verbal excesses during the lockout, if there is really a CBA agreement. But at least they won't have to reach for the Tums.
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In the event of an agreement, there will be plenty of rationalization about how labor negotiations typically prompt such strong, if misguided, language. But there is one word that the NFLPA won't so easily explain away, one that ought to resonate even in the potential euphoria of a settlement, two syllables that shouldn't be permitted to simply float away into the cosmos and dismissed as just the rhetoric of a group engaged in a pitched labor tussle.
Remember how some NFLPA lieutenants espoused early in the discussions that the union would "never" accede to a collective bargaining agreement until the owners opened up their books for inspection? Recall how some players queued up in lockstep behind executive director/pied piper DeMaurice Smith and vowed they would "never" cut a deal until the owners' financial statements were presented for review?
In all of his early bombast, Smith, who never met a question he couldn't filibuster, and whose minions were in sing-song accord with him, repeatedly made the point that he couldn't go forward with a CBA, especially in view of the owners' request for a $1 billion cut off the top, that didn't permit him and an army of forensic accountants to verify the profit-loss statements of the ownership fraternity.
And now "never" apparently has been forgotten. But use the term "never," especially so strongly, and selective amnesia shouldn't be a convenient excuse.
Opening up the books? Well, owners opened up the coffers on Thursday night, ratifying a CBA deal that, by all accounts, is better than "the worst deal in the history of sports" that Smith termed one of the proposals a few months ago. But the players never saw the books. No matter which side one takes, whether you believe that the books were cooked or the notion that owners would dummy up the ledgers and the spreadsheets is half-baked, the fact that the NFLPA never laid eyes on what was presented as their holy grail is indisputable.
|The Colts' Jim Irsay said owners offered to show their financials, but the NFLPA said it wasn't enough. (Getty Images)|
In the battle of the two networks reporting on the owners' meeting -- the breathless analysis of the NFL and NFLPA stances and the silly parsing of whether the sides were on the five- or 10-yard line in terms of a settlement -- the contention of Smith and the NFLPA that no deal could be consummated without a peek at the books seemed to get lost in the hyperbole. But in assessing the performance of Smith, when players have time to gauge his relative effectiveness through the long ordeal of the lockout, his must-see-the-books stance shouldn't be just swept away.
Sure, negotiations, by nature, are filled with incendiary rhetoric that all sides need to put behind them at some point after there is a resolution. But the NFLPA position on requiring an inspection of the books was a tenet, a touchstone, of the union's basic argument. That the players never achieved what Smith suggested was an inalterable pursuit should never -- there's that word again -- be forgotten.
As noted late Thursday night by New York Giants co-owner John Mara, probably one of the key figures for the NFL in negotiations, neither side got everything it sought in the deal ratified by the owners. But the players, if they eventually approve the proposal, didn't get the one thing they suggested from the start was the fulcrum point of their discord.
When the final chapter of the 2011 lockout is written, it will be accurately noted somewhere that the owners never opened the books. No matter how Smith and his public relations minions spin that, it can't be changed, and his early stand on never having a CBA without financial inspection can't be misinterpreted.
The term "never" usually leaves no gray area, no ambiguity, no wiggle room. So let's see how Smith and the NFLPA try to squirm out of the fact they never saw the books.
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange.