On Thursday, it appeared all was over but the kegger. NFL owners, after creating an airport traffic jam of limousines in Atlanta (seriously), voted 31-0 to, as early reports said, "end the NFL Lockout." They approved a 10-year "global agreement" which would see the game into a glorious new, multi-billion dollar future. We were told that everyone except for Al Davis of the Raiders was happy, which in turn made all the other owners particularly happy. They even gave a standing ovation to their meat-puppet, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The sports media exhaled. Fans rejoiced. Belts were loosened, elastic pants were taken out of storage. Owners crowed that the NFL season, including the $800 million pre-season, looked glitteringly intact.
There was only one problem. The owners had not voted to accept a negotiated, collectively bargained agreement. They were doing little more than voting to approve their own deal. Neither the NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, nor NFLPA President Kevin Mawae, nor any of the player reps had even seen the agreement the owners voted upon. It reportedly includes a series of provisions that hadn’t been discussed or bargained. It was a power play aimed at using the deadline for a settlement to get their wish-list on the player’s backs. Eric Cantor would have been proud.
Mike Silver of yahoo sports wrote that the owners were doing little more than "....daring the players to swallow terms that have not yet been negotiated." Washington’s player rep Vonnie Holiday tweeted, "Look guys I have no reason to lie! The truth of the matter is we got tricked duped, led astray, hoodwinked, bamboozled!"
Meanwhile, the official sports media turned up the heat, clamoring for the NFLPA to just vote on what the owners approved and get back to work. Sports Illustrated’s Don Banks said that the owners should do their own “Let Us Play” commercial (thankfully Banks doesn’t work in advertising, since, owners don’t actually…. You know…. Play.) Green Bay Packers player rep and Super Bowl hero Aaron Rodgers tweeted, "Media spin on owners position in this lockout is ridiculous. Believe my colleagues tweets tonight about the events of the last 24 hours."
Despite the awesome weight of ownership, media, and personal financial pressure, the players are holding firm to actually reading and discussing this mammoth 10-year labor agreement before signing off and good for them. I fully expect the lockout to end shortly. There is too much money at stake, too much expectation for football to go forward as planned. But after a 132 day lockout, the players have every right to actually understand in full what it is they're voting upon. The owners would be lucky if the NFLPA doesn’t look at the number of publicly funded stadiums, look at the star-power of their own players and say to the owners, “Why do we need you again?”
This is bigger than the NFL. This is about the arrogance of Capital in a period of austerity. The actions of the owners are little different from the arrogance of the Republican leaders of congress, Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, John Kasich of Ohio, Jerry Brown of California, Andrew Cuomo of New York and all who believe that it's belt-tightening time for everyone but the fat-cats and to hell with democracy, due process, or any semblance of thought for the greater good. This is about those at the top of society who want "socialism" for the rich and an apocalyptic Ayn Randian nightmare for the rest of us. As Troy Polamalu, the All-Pro safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers said,
“I think what the players are fighting for is something bigger. A lot of people think it’s millionaires versus billionaires and that’s the huge argument. The fact is its people fighting against big business. The big business argument is ‘I got the money and I got the power therefore I can tell you what to do.’ That’s life everywhere. I think this is a time when the football players are standing up and saying, ‘No, no, no, the people have the power.”
I wish Barack Obama, in his own set of negotiations, had half of their backbone of the NFLPA. We should stand with their basic right to not have their future force-fed to them like animals, but to be treated like men.
Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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