The NFL labor war between team owners and players drove me to Maury Brown (no relation) for unbiased explanations of what’s happening and why it happened. Brown is president of The Business Of Sports Network and lately a popular commentator on the NFL lockout. So it’s significant that he comes down squarely on the players’ side in their interpretation of the team owners’ vote to ratify a new CBA.
Here’s Brown’s conclusion from his story that appears on Forbes.com:
“So, to say that the owners have ratified an agreement is a fallacy. What has happened is a savvy power play to get the player to agree to the final proposal they voted on before the players saw it.”
Brown labeled the owners’ offer sheet as a proposal. The owners called it an agreement and announced the end of the lockout. The players reacted poorly to that. Some ascribed malice to the owners. The owners, who triggered the lockout, thought they were at end game when they (briefly) announced to doors open.
The miss wasn’t only on the owners part. The media, um including bloggers like me, were counting down time left on the labor dispute like the crystal ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. We just wanted to start the new league year and we all got carried away. The players’ mantra “We just want to play football” resonates with fans who want to see the season begin. By Thursday night, it was clear we all needed Sober Cab.
Brown’s story gives the complex steps to ratification on the players side. We are weeks away even with perfect communication and trust between the parties. As we saw this week, communication is not perfect and lack of trust is an issue.
Brown scores the owners for mislabeling their agreement. The players have some mislabeling of their own. To wit: If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. The Players’ Association looks and acts like a labor union. Decertification aside, De Smith and the PA executive committee have been at the center of all the negotiations and speak for all the players. Excuse me? Is that not the definition of a bargaining agent?
The PA decertified itself as a labor union to enable players to bring an anti-trust suit against the league of owners. That won the day with Judge Nelson in Federal District Court, but got nowhere with the Court of Appeals. The Eighth Cuircuit trounced the decertification play. They have the notion that a labor dispute exists notwithstanding union decertification. Judge Nelson has to retry the anti-trust case in light of the Appeals Court ruling. The owners have an argument, at least, that a union of players exists in fact if not in name.
If that’s so, the players may not need to recertify the union because the Players’s Association may already be one—if Judge Nelson so rules after a new trial.
Why is that important? Because Brown and others say that settlement of the various lawsuits are the biggest issues on the table. It’s not a sure thing that the players will win their anti-trust case. It would be a disaster for them to lose. Settlement is the fastest way to resolution and the only way both parties can control their destinies.
We wrote yesterday that anti-trust, like lockouts and nuclear warheads, is best used as a threat. It loses its power as soon as it is used. It would be a catastrophe for players and fans, but not necessarily for owners, if the players’ association forced teams to comply with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The players better hope the owners don’t call their bluff on this.