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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

As the NFL lockout approaches, the average fan is clearly unaware of all of the issues

By Dr. Bill Chachkes-Executive Editor-Football Reporters Online

As I sit here writing this at 4:30 am on the 12th day of January 2011, we are 49 days away from the first job action in professional football in 23 years. The “labor peace” that so many worked so hard for over the last 30 years to keep in place is about to go up in a puff of smoke like the $12 cigars that Madison av. money men favor. But this time, the formula for this impending action comes out of 280 Park Avenue, the headquarters of the NFL itself. I’m not saying this is directly the result of anything that Roger Goodell has done. If anything, he is trying to affect the quickest possible resolution to the problem. Except that mr. Goodell’s authority is limited by the owners who run the NFL. A small fraction of these owners want to see a ”correction,” like the stock market take place in pro football.

Yes folks, this is the doing of a small group of owners who could care less about the players health and general well being. All the more saddening is the fact that the owners in question have more to loose then they realize, and the league has gotten big business and the TV networks to play along.

Although I have been paying attention the last few years to the goings on, I took part in the NFLPA media conference call yesterday with Assistant Executive director (for external affairs) George Atallah and player executive board members Dominuqe Foxoworth (Baltimore Ravens) and Scott Fujita (Cleveland Browns). Most of the questions revolved around the current health and safety issues and the Leagues’ launch of a new website to address these issues. Underneath it all is the countdown to when players will be “Locked Out” of their teams’ facilities (March 3rd).

While most would paint this as a “Millionaires vs. Billionaires” fight, the players in this case are getting the short end of the stick. Players’ rights have never been more at risk now then in all the time since Bernie Parrish helped lead the drive to organize in the 1950’s.

It’s true I subscribe to the “more football is good” theory, but when it’s cast about as a way to get around very real concerns about player health issues, then we have to look deeper. The owners want to add 2 regular season games to the schedule: great, right? Get rid of two pre season games, shorten up the time frame with regard to OTA and mini camps.

Players feel this is the major sticking point in getting a deal done. Not who makes more money, the owners or the players. "To me, right now, as things stand, 18 games, the way it's being proposed, is completely unacceptable. ... I see more and more players get injured every season," said Fujita on yesterday’s call.

Atallah informed us that 352 players were on injured reserve for all or part of the 2010 season, a record high, and just about 1/5th or 20% of the total number of active players this year.

Foxworth added "We put our bodies on the line and produce a lot of revenue, and we get five years (of post-retirement health insurance), And then they want to tack on two more games ... which is just going to multiply the injuries and the ailments that we're going to see after we go into our 40s, 50s, 60s -- 70s, if we're lucky”. ... Foxworth, like so many players, has a growing family, and considers a two thousand dollar a month COBRA payment a steep cost to keep health insurance active while locked out. While some players could probably afford to pay it, most of the younger players with less then 3 years of service in the league would probably have to seek temporary employment at something else to help pay that cost.
"We're not willing to budge on health and safety, and we'd like to gain some more ground in ways we can protect former players and current players." Foxoworth added.

I had a conversation at the 2010 draft With Kevin Mawae, who until this September was the players’ association president. “It all comes down to money, plain and simple. The owners had more then the players until the last agreement. The owners want it back now because the economy took a bad turn, so they want to make up for the outrageously high contracts they give to rookies, which add up to more money then most current vets will ever see, Not that I’m saying that a Bradford shouldn’t get every cent he can. You can die or be paralyzed at any time on the field of play” He was very open and candid about what many players see as a travesty in the making.

This is not to say that the financial issues aren’t important, and that the NFL and it’s workforce don’t need to agree to mutually beneficial terms to insure the survival of the great game of football. They do, and soon. But when you want to force a bad deal down one side’s craw as management is trying to do, I have to question what the owners (at least some) are doing here. If you were truly concerned enough to install and reinforce rule “tweaks” to the game this year to prevent more head to head contact injuries, why would you cut off players’ access to health care during a job dispute? Why have the TV networks agree to pay you money even if no games take place in 2011? Why threaten to lay off or furlough up to 50 percent of League and team staff?

Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones recently said on a 60 Minutes interview segment that “it wouldn’t be so bad if the lockout went to the 11th hour before something got done” That doesn’t sound like a man who cares about his players or their families does it? Fujita doesn’t think so either, calling those comments irresponsible.

What the NFL owners don’t see here is beyond costing both sides a great deal of money and anguish. They are going to kill off the popularity of the game, that the NFL won when professional baseball struck in 1994. I’d want to know why I’m getting charged how ever many thousands of dollars for my tickets next year if there won’t be football played, if I still had season tickets. As my fellow writer David Levy points out many times over in his article series about the fan experience these days, Most average people have been priced out of going to see the game they love. If the owners love this game so much, why do they want to kill off it’s popularity, esp. when this past weekend’s “Wild Card Playoffs” broadcasts averaged over 32 million viewers per game.

This is what people should be asking of the NFL.

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