Life imitates art. The best examples of what happened over the past 18 hours of the NFL labor war between owners and players are captured by two movies: Rush Hour and Cool Hand Luke.
By now the owners must be wondering if the players "understand the words that are coming from their mouthpieces."
The only thing to say about De Smith and the pseudo-players union is "what we have here is failure to communicate." That failure is on the union side.
SOMETHING made the owners comfortable enough to ratify an "agreement" by a near-unanimous vote. Somehow, the 32 players representatives see that as the latest "proposal." The disconnect must be with Smith and the Players' Association executive committee.
The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has more pages than an Al Saunders' playbook. Playbooks have pictures and diagrams. Labor agreements have legal terms in teeny tiny print. Hiccups are inevitable when new details are new news to the players reps who were not as close the negotiations as thought.
As best as I can tell, player push-back seems to fall in three general areas.
1. They feel rushed to accept a deal. After successfully shining a light and fan ire on the owners for the lockout, the lockout is suddenly lifted and the onus is on them to end the labor war. They are uncomfortable. It is right and fair for the union, which the NFL PA shows every sign of being and the Courts will take note of it, to say they need the time to explain the details to the reps who then explains it to their 1,900 teammates. This is a legitimate concern.
2. There was new news in the agreement that the players' reps were not prepared to hear. (Sounds like) Most of it involves settlement of the players lawsuits on the owner's "slush fund" before Judge Doty and the anti-trust suit before Judge Nelson. It is inconceivable that the owners and the PA executive committee did not address the issue and that the pseudo-union reached terms to end the suits. Someone has some 'splaining to do the the players reps to win them over if they can. The reps need to get their questions answered. As for the emotional response by some reps (looking at you, Vonnie Holliday), two words: grow up.
3. Clinging to the anit-trust lever. The late John Mackey successfully sued pete Rozelle and the NFL for anti-trust violations in 1976 (see John Mackey et al v. National Football League, U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit). The players have used it as a sword over the league's head ever since. Like lockouts and nuclear warheads, anti-trust is best used as a threat. It loses its power if it is ever executed.
Labor conditions for NFL players are not the same in 2011 as it was, thanks to successful suits by Mackey and by Reggie White in 1992. The Eighth Circuit Court gave a clear signal to both sides that settlement would be better than any ruling it may make. That's as clear a hint as one can get. More important, players really really do not want to force teams to comply with the Sherman Anti-trust Act.
Most players would be disadvantaged if they had to apply for jobs with an NFL team the way you and I would apply to K-Mart. The exception would be quarterbacks (of course) and the top 100 players. The bottom two-thirds of every roster, they guys easily replaced by talent off the street, would have to accept what the local market would bear under work rules set by teams. Bad for players signed by Buffalo and Jacksonville. Very, very good for players signed by Dallas, Washington and the rest of the NFC East, New England, New York Jets and a handful of big market teams.
Fortunate fans of big market teams would love that system. The best talent would flow to their teams, but competitiveness would tilt to the East. An unbalanced, regional NFL is a lesser league.
Players, get the best settlement you can on the anti-trust suits and get to some football.
Point after: We are already on record as saying the two sides should take all the time needed to get the right deal. Better to get it done right than to get it done now.