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NFL owners to blame for the lockout

About the Author

Hub Arkush
Publisher and editor

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Posted March 13, 2011 @ 12:29 p.m. ET
By Hub Arkush

The year was 1987, and Gordon Gekko was the baddest dude on the block. When Michael Douglas uttered the phrase "Greed is good!" playing the role that would garner him a Best Actor Oscar in the movie "Wall Street" — in the same year the NFL owners at the time took Gekko's words to heart and engaged in their first serious attempt at union busting — it appears all or at least most of today's 32 NFL team owners' lives were altered forever. Conjecture on my part to be sure, but is there one of you out there who can offer a single shred of evidence to dispute it?

It is impossible to count the number of NFL fans and nonfans alike asking the questions: Which side is to blame for the National Football League's current labor impasse, and who's right and who's wrong? It's equally difficult to quantify the number of media and fans alike rushing to offer their opinions based on half-truths and leaked innuendo with little or no regard for the very few facts we actually have in hand. Only the members of the NFL Management Council's negotiating team, the NFL Players Association's negotiating team and the mediators who have sat with them during every single conversation and negotiation can say for sure, and that number is probably close to zero.

Here's what we can report as absolute fact. It is 100 percent the fault of the 32 NFL owners and their representatives that this mess has come to this point at this time. In spite of their superior public-relations effort compared to the players', and the constant assaults on the intentions and integrity of their employees in uniform, it is the owners who are completely to blame. However, we have absolutely no idea which side is right and which is wrong. Or more realistically, which side is closer to being fair and reasonable, because the owners have steadfastly refused to give the players, media or fans anywhere near enough information for us to know whether their demands are driven by need, greed or both.

From the moment the owners started this battle almost three years ago by opting out early from a Collective Bargaining Agreement that appeared — and continues to appear — to any reasonable observer to have worked extremely well, the players have said, "Hey, we kind of like the current deal and are happy to keep working under it, but if there is a problem, just show us your books, and if it's there, we'll talk about fixing it." And to that the owners have basically said, "No, even though our claims appear to any knowledgeable observer to be more about greed than need, you're not entitled to see the facts or expect us to prove our claims in any way. You just have to trust us and give us what we want to make things fair."

Discuss or argue about any of the other conversation, debate, rhetoric or rancor that has ensued as long or as loudly as you like, but none of it matters. Those two opening positions are the basis of all that has followed. As a result, there was never any chance we would be anywhere but exactly where we are today. It's impossible to understand how the owners can claim this wasn't absolutely their second choice of exactly where they hoped and planned to be today, the first having been the pipedream that the players might have responded to their opening demands by turning around and saying, "Sure boss, stick it to us any way you like."

I understand the position of the 31 owners — excluding the publicly held Green Bay Packers — who claim theirs' are privately owned companies with absolutely no obligation to share their confidential finances with anyone. I was asked on the radio the other day if, as someone who's owned and run his own business for 35 years now, "If your employees came to you tomorrow and said we're unhappy with our salaries, we want you to open your books and let us see what you're making, what would you do?" I told the host I'd ask them to please give me their front-door keys, clean out their desks and try not to let the door hit them in the ass on their way out."

But before he moved on, I also replied that the question didn't apply to the current NFL labor impasse. I went on to tell him if I had admitted publicly that my business was earning significant profits but that I wanted my employees to give me back between 20-30 percent of their income so I could invest in the business because that was the only way I could continue growing my profits, even though I had no intentions of sharing any of my equity in the company with them, I'd have a very different answer. I'd turn over every significant piece of information they requested and sit with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week keeping their coffee hot and refreshments fresh for however long it took to justify my demand. After all, if I were telling the truth, what could I possibly have to hide?

Keep in mind these are the same NFL owners who have been found in Federal Court to be guilty of conspiring to negotiate in bad faith on behalf of the players and to have committed contract fraud against the players by giving up money they were bound by their Collective Bargaining Agreement to negotiate for the players, in exchange for funds they intended to use to fund a lockout of the players and attempt to crush their union. And this fraud was being perpetrated at the exact same time they initially asked the players for givebacks and said "Trust us" when they refused to supply the supporting information. The owners' response is that they're actually innocent and the judge is biased, in spite of the fact the testimony of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and at least one of the owners confirmed the judge's ruling.

Like you, I've heard the whining of NBA commissioner David Stern that his owners opening their books to the NBA players did nothing to resolve their differences. But that is absolutely not the point. The NFL owners have made some very serious demands of their players. What is it they are trying to hide by steadfastly refusing to prove or justify their claims?

The owners have also told us they've already given the players as much information as they need to justify their demands. Their initial demand was for at least $5 billion and possibly as much as $7 billion in givebacks depending on the length of a new CBA. At that price, how much information is too much? And again, what are they trying to hide?

There is, of course, a great deal more that has destroyed any credibility the owners may ever have had. They have cried repeatedly that since they wanted out of the old deal and the players didn't, the players were admitting the deal was one-sided in their favor. What? Doesn't all of the limited evidence we have been able to find argue the players were happy because they thought the deal was fair and the owners simply, greedily wanted more? Since when does one side being satisfied and the other not define a bad deal? I guess the NFL owners have never had a bad partner as opposed to a bad deal?

The ultimate irony in all of this is that the answer to the second and far more important question of right and wrong as opposed to blame may very well be that the owners are right. We have absolutely no way of knowing. More importantly, the players have no way of knowing. Unfortunately, nobody but the owners knows the truth, and right now they're not talking. They just can't seem to understand why we all don't just trust them.


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