Optimism In The Air? … Morning Cup O’Chiefs

Thursday was scheduled to be the start of the Chiefs 2011 mini-camp. Instead, players and coaches are scattered around the country, stuck in the NFL lockout. That’s a depressing thought right there.

But, for the first time in years – at least the last two since the NFL owners opted out of the most recent collective bargaining agreement – there is optimism in the pro football world of labor relations.

On Wednesday, the league and players wrapped up two days of not-so secret negotiations that were held at a Long Island hotel. Sitting around the table were players and owners. The lawyers were out of the room and not in the conversation first hand. The only lawyer in the room was players association head DeMaurice Smith. He was joined by players Kevin Mawae, Jeff Saturday, Mike Vrabel, Tony Richardson and Dominque Foxworth.

Representing the league was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and owners Clark Hunt, Jerry Richardson (Carolina), Robert Kraft (New England), John Mara (New York Giants), and Dean Spanos (San Diego).

The list of participants is reason alone for an increase in optimism. It’s the second week in a row that the parties have gotten together in quiet circumstances and out of the way places. That the two sides are talking while waiting for court rulings and sessions is a great sign. The list of non-participants (no lawyers) is reason to be optimistic.

But there are other factors involved in the recent conversations that provide hope. So far, public comments coming out of the most recent sessions have been in one voice, speaking for both sides.

On Wednesday their statement was: “NFL owners and players have engaged in further confidential discussions before Chief Magistrate Judge Boylan. Both sides met again this week as part of ongoing court mediation. Those discussions are expected to continue.” That’s 33 words of nothing, but it’s an optimistic nothing.

There is no news and that’s good news. There has been little in the way of details leaked from the negotiations – that’s another good sign. Both sides are acknowledging that the time to bang out a deal is now – yet another good sign.

It appears that everyone was paying attention to the words of Appeals Court Judge Kermit Bye, who told the parties last Friday during a session involving the league’s appeal:

“We will take this case and render a decision in due course. We won’t, I might also say, be all that hurt that you’re leaving us out if you should go out and settle the case. But that’s up to you. But we will keep with our business and if that ends up with a decision, it’s probably something both sides are not going to like, but at least it will be a decision.”

It’s becoming obvious that both sides have come to understand that while they may win in the court room, they can also lose. Both sides know or are coming to accept that a legal decision in this case is going to settle nothing and it will truly jeopardize the chances of football in 2011.

As the joint statement from Wednesday read – “Those discussions will continue.” They must continue, because a complete NFL season in 2011 will happen only if they are talking, and only if they are talking without the complicators in the room, i.e. the lawyers. At some point in time, the lawyers will have to come back into the room to put to paper what’s been agreed to between the league and players.

But at that point, the players will be back to work and the games will go on and the arguments and arm twisting will happen behind the scenes. Football would be the subject, not litigation, mediation and negotiation.

The basics of the agreement need to be in place by July 15th to assure that the league gets a fairly normal training camp period and pre-season games. That’s five weeks away. That’s a blink of an eye in today’s world.

We wrote many months ago that the labor battle would be a roller coaster. There’s no question that the overall tenor right now is to the plus side. It could turn negative in a moment. It could all be a mirage. It could all be play acting by one side or the other or both, in hopes of affecting various judges and their deliberations.

Little if anything ever happens in the world of sports until the last minute. It’s a peculiar procrastination problem that hovers above the situation. Generally, it takes somebody losing revenue before there’s a softening of position. That hasn’t happened yet and won’t until training camp.

But what’s going down now in these not so secret sessions is laying the pipes for getting something done. That happens only if they are talking.

They are, and that’s reason for optimism.

3 Responses to “Optimism In The Air? … Morning Cup O’Chiefs”

  • June 9, 2011  - RW says:

    What to make of this latest bit of news? Try this: In any negotiation the respective sides have to come to grips with a simple truism which is, you’ll get something you want and have to give up something you don’t want.

    It’s a little more complex than that but remains a basic tenet of any CBA. If the players and owners are getting comfortable with it, then surely we’re on the road to resolution. But, are both sides comfortable?

    I think the players are but not so sure about the owners although I did hear yesterday that the cancelling of the pre-season alone would cost all concerned a cool ONE $BILLION bucks in revenues. Not chump change, obviously.

    That number may even cause the ego hawks to check same at the door and get this thing settled. It might.

  • June 9, 2011  - Donovan says:

    I agree with you, RW, mostly. I just can’t get over the fact that it was the owners who decided they couldn’t live with the old CBA while the players stated repeatedly that they were happy with the status quo. The reasonable-sounding mantra “everybody gets something they want, nobody gets everything they want” suddenly doesn’t sound so reasonable when you stop to consider that one side wasn’t asking for anything in the first place.

    Still, nothing last forever and I’m glad there may be hope of a deal that works for everyone. I’m just getting tired of fans blaming both sides equally for this mess, which doesn’t seem to fit with the facts. I’m NOT saying that you did that in your message, RW. I’m talking in more general terms of what I’ve seen in comments all over the internet.

  • June 9, 2011  - Tracy says:

    The clock is ticking louder and louder and both sides seem aware of that. Perhaps somebody will create a display, similar to that of the escalating national debt, which measures the growing discontent of the millions of fans who are growing more and more weary of the legal system’s intrusion into football and use that to stoke the fires of urgency.

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