You can see the next collective bargaining nightmare — and possibly a lockout — on the horizon for the NFL and NFLPA. After more than six years of relative peace (since the deal that was signed in 2011), things are starting to get heated between the two sides ahead of an expected battle on the labor front.
We saw theand in an appearance on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” (set to air this Tuesday night at 11 p.m. ET on HBO), NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith took the proverbial blowtorch to the other side.
Smith, who was pressed extensively about the current CBA by Gumbel, blamed the owners for opting out of the previous agreement in 2008 because they are “greedy.”
SMITH: “They [the NFL owners] tore up the collective bargaining agreement.”
SMITH: “They’re greedy. I mean, what else is there?”
Asked to defend the 2011 CBA, which has been widely panned by many critics at different levels, Smith said he likes “all” of the aspects of the agreement.
“All of it. We’ve seen the owners for the first time in history contributing over $300 million to former player pensions,” Smith said when asked what he likes about the CBA. “We’ve seen our amount of work decrease. We’ve seen the health and safety of players increase.”
Gumbel pushed Smith, who will be up for re-election at the beginning of the 2018 season, on the dangers of a 10-year agreement. Smith claimed that whatever objective people claim about the agreement does not matter because “virtually none of them know the economics of our business” before asking of the players, “in what system do they [come off as financially well as the owners]?”
The answer is, technically, none. Players are not going to make as much as owners. But the lack of guaranteed contracts and the disappearance of the middle class of veterans (thanks to a rookie wage scale, which is something the union pushed for along with owners) has led to some unhappy campers at the NFL level.
Unfortunately, the discipline issues with Roger Goodell are going to draw lots of headlines in negotiations; Goodell would probably give up some power right now if there were not a CBA to negotiate. Instead, he and the owners will squat on it as a major bargaining chip — stemming Goodell’s judge and jury authority would serve as a big public relations victory for the union — until the next CBA. Smith sounds like he understands the tightrope he has to walk on valuing any changes in that venue.
“Could [Goodell’s authority] be an issue of bargaining going forward? Yes,” Smith said. “Is it up to the players and our leadership to decide how much weight to put on it? Absolutely.”
After the Ray Rice debacle several years ago, Goodell said publicly he planned to work with the union on finding ways to change his power in personal conduct matters. Again, that would have been bad bargaining, and it shouldn’t be a surprise the two parties did not work together.
Smith believes Goodell “lied” to him about the changes.
GUMBEL: “When Roger Goodell can stand up there as he did and say, “We’re drafting a new NFL personal conduct policy. We’re gonna do so in conjunction with the union,” and then doesn’t consult the union, comes up with a new policy, that says what?”
SMITH: “That says he lied.”
An NFL spokesman refuted the claim from Smith, telling HBO the league “repeatedly tried to engage the union but they had no interest in developing a tough and enhanced personal conduct policy.” Smith also said that his relationship with Goodell is “irrelevant” (which is not really true and mostly code for “I don’t care for that man as a fellow human”) and said he does not “have the luxury of trust.”
Also of note was Smith sort of dodging the question from Gumbel about whether he wants to continue in his role as executive director moving forward. After providing a couple vague answers, Smith said he wants to stick around.
“I intend to stay next year. Yeah and I would like to. I think there’s work that needs to be done,” Smith said. “At the end of the day, am I always going to be happy with the decision of the players and respect their decision? Absolutely.”
This will not be the last super-serious interview involving Smith and/or Goodell. But “Real Sports” set the tone well for what we should see: an angry Smith, spitting vitriol about the evil NFL that is hellbent on stealing all the money from the players. Goodell will counter by putting on a button up and a cardigan for calm, casual interviews on cable television that feature him plastering the camera with lawyer-speak and imploring everyone to continue and focus on player safety. He will agree there are changes that need to be made — or could be made — and those changes will revolve around discipline and possibly the use of recreational marijuana.
It is the dance of the lockout and it is only beginning.