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Players, owners finally get done what politicians cannot

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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The negotiations had slowed to a trickle and one player representative remembers a scene where he went to dinner with a teammate and CNN was on the television where they were eating. On the set was coverage of the stalemate that had been reached between the President and Congress over the raising of the debt ceiling.

"Please," the player told his friend, "don't let us be like those idiots."

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But they were like those idiots ... until the last week or so. No one can say what exactly led to the breakthrough and the end of idiocy. It may have simply been the ticking clock of a season approaching. Or the wear and tear of negotiations had created a sense of finality.

But after months of bickering, owners and players were, in the end, able to do something political leaders, countries and neighbors have not in this Era of Polarization: reach a détente.

"We needed to get this done," Seattle player rep Chester Pitts said. "There was too much at stake not to. And we got it done."

Not that owners and players should be awarded a United Nations humanitarian award. There were plenty of ridiculous moments that alienated fans and made both sides look like squabbling children.

Yet in the end something happened that could serve as an example to our political elite, common folks and message board tough guys alike. Compromise can work.

Sources on both sides explain how, toward the end, each gave up something which in turn moved talks along to a conclusion while also building trust.

Overall the owners made less money from the last CBA and in return wanted more power over the players on and off the field. The players made more money and also wanted more say over benefits and safety issues. The final CBA shows a reflection of how both sides got a little of what they wanted but not even close to everything. It was a true deal.

Through much of the talks lawyers were the villains -- and in some cases deservedly so -- but it was the lawyers (along obviously with DeMaurice Smith and Roger Goodell) who helped broker many of the compromises. The players, for example, relented on judicial oversight of the new CBA before Judge David Doty, long a thorn in the side of owners. It was one of the biggest demands from the owners; they despised Doty. The players figured since Doty is in his 80s this wasn't a huge compromise. "We had a good run with Doty," said one player, "but it was clearly coming to an end."

The owners feel differently. No Doty or judicial oversight, they feel, is a huge win.

The players were also willing to meet owner demands of paying less money up front to rookies. This wasn't as easy a compromise as has been publicly made by some in the media. The players privately hate the idea of paying any player -- even rookies -- less money. There were even beliefs by NFLPA lawyers that the draft should be disposed of altogether. But the players relented.

The owners, I'm told, in the end gave in on a number of compromises the players desired. One of the big ones was how the union reconstitutes itself. This was another huge fight and the owners relented, I'm told. The owners also gave in on several health and safety issues including fewer padded practices and OTAs. That compromise is hated by coaches.

"Everyone gave up something," said Pitts.

Politicians in Washington ... are you paying attention?

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