Ft. Meyers, FL – I slipped into Florida for the weekend with my oldest son, Patrick, to watch a couple of Red Sox Spring Training games and found myself absolutely mesmerized by the sheer tranquility of this game. Maybe I just needed the break, but I happily watched as game time approached while one of the grounds crew meticulously painted the white chalk lines down the first and third base lines, as well as the batter’s box on either side of home plate.
Baseball is all about time honored traditions. The pitcher, warming up, makes an upward gesture with his glove when he is about to throw his last warm-up toss. He walks off the mound as the catcher stands bolt upright and fires the ball to a waiting second baseman, who lightly tosses the ball to the shortstop who then turns and throws it to the third baseman. The pitcher has now arrived back on the mound and turns precisely in time to catch the ball from the third baseman.
All of which got me to thinking about the National Football League (NFL) which is embroiled in an ugly public relations meltdown that the public largely perceives as millionaire players battling zillionaire owners over how much money is enough.
So, it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old NFL!
Baseball, of course, is no stranger to labor strikes and work stoppages. The 1994-95 baseball strike wiped out the entire 1994 post season and World Series, lasted 232 days and was the eighth labor action in its history.
But baseball today is enjoying the sunlight while the NFL is uncomfortably in the spotlight trying to explain to season ticket holders and football fans nationwide why these very well paid athletes who step out onto the gridiron every Sunday for 16 weeks (more if they make the postseason) can’t abide by the owner’s insistence that they rewrite the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) that binds owners and players financially. The owners want to tear up the CBA and force players to absorb costs such as the expense of building new stadiums as part of the 60 percent they receive from revenues (simplified explanation).
The players counter that no other employee has to pay for operating costs as part of their compensation. So the players decided to play hardball with the owners and recently decertified their own union and announced that players would file anti-trust litigation against the owners. That pretty much guaranteed the current lockout which effectively defines the upcoming season as the not-so upcoming season.
No practices, no preseason, no football season unless something changes and one side or the other signals a different attitude.
Both sides are saying all the things that you would expect them to say (positions that PR folks have undoubtedly told them to voice). The owners, pretty much the richest class of human beings on the planet, say that the current revenue agreement is unsustainable, the economy is in decline, and players should be well paid – but new stadiums cost about $1 billion and you can’t ask the owners to absorb all those costs!
The players talk in terms of collective bargaining rights, the fundamental right of all workers to have parity and fairness. Most NFL players have relatively short careers, which means they “have” to be well paid now or they are going to be selling used cars after they retire. They want the owners to open up their books and show them how much of a struggle this is for them before they accept what amounts to a more than 9 percent reduction in pay.
If either or both sides of this dispute really cared about the fans – which both have at the top of their talking points memo – they would settle this. People who sit in parking lots grilling Polish sausages and drinking beer five hours before a game with war paint on their faces are not going to connect to Tom Brady’s complaint about players needing a bigger stake in revenue. Tom might have found some sympathy somewhere but it isn’t like he’s trying to squeak by on his base salary of $3.5 million. His model wife (that is, his wife who is a model) was recently ranked among the 20 richest women in the world and is worth an estimated $70 million.
And the owners have at least as steep a PR hill to climb as the players.
So here’s a quick memo to both sides: We don’t care. Settle your labor problem and stop trying to win us over. If you don’t play football on Sunday, we will just find something else to do.
Like watch baseball.