These two men control the fate of the 2011 NFL season.
In case you missed it, the Saints and Vikings stepped onto the field before their Thursday night game began, raising a single finger to the air to signify their solidarity against the owners in what promises to be contentious negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. This showing of union solidarity prompted a rather vicious debate on ESPN's Mike and Mike morning radio show between host Mike Golic and guest Marcellus Wiley, both former NFL players.
Golic, a defensive lineman for the Oilers, Eagles, and Dolphins from 1986-1993; is a veteran of NFL labor disputes, having been around for the 1987 player's strike.
However, Golic berated the Saints and Vikings players for their actions on the field last night. He grew heated and began yelling at Wiley repeatedly, "they don't care, Marcellus!" His point was that NFL fans simply don't care about the player's supposed "plight" in a league where the cards are stacked against them. All the fans care about is the product they pay for being produced with regularity every fall.
Wiley, a defensive lineman for the Bills, Chargers, Cowboys, and Jaguars from 1997-2006, took the opposite position. He in turn, also grew heated and defended the players' actions last night, declaring that the players have to make an appeal for fan support and fans have to support the players.
Since Bleacher Report is a website by the fans and for the fans, I figured this would be a good place to carry out a discussion on just how much we do care about the players.
For those NFL fans that have been living in a shell for the past year or so, the league's collective bargaining agreement ends in March. Leading up to the negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement there has been much speculation that there will be a lockout, putting the 2011 season on hold.
Some issues at stake are the percentage of profits that go to the players, a rookie salary scale and how to use the money saved from removing the outrageous expenditures on rookies, and the increase of the schedule from 16 to 18 games. There are certainly other hot-button issues, but these are the three that are repeatedly talked about in the media.
First things first, how the money should be distributed between owners and players. The current CBA promises the players 57% of the league's income. Players argue that that number is more like 50%, because so many teams do not spend to the NFL salary cap. How much the players receive and if that money is guaranteed regardless of the salary cap is the biggest question surrounding the negotiations for the new CBA.
The second issue, the rookie pay scale and what to do with the money the league saves, is one where there is already some common ground. Both the players and the owners agree that there should be a rookie pay scale. Where they differ is what to use the money for.
Estimates have the league saving $200 million by instituting a rookie pay scale. The players would like to take half of that and put it toward retired players and the other half toward veteran players. Of course the owners would like to take all of that money and "reinvest" it as they please, this way the money can be used as needed in order to benefit everybody.
The final issue is the addition of two extra regular season games. Many in the media look at this as an inevitability. However, for a league that has angry players already; asking them to play an extra two games, putting themselves at further risk, will not come easily. Concessions will have to be made.
Make no mistake, the players mean business. When Gene Upshaw, former executive director of the National Football League Player's Association, passed away in August of 2008; the players elected Washington Attorney DeMaurice Smith over former player Troy Vincent. The thinking then was the players wanted somebody that would be a tough negotiator and an experienced litigator, because they were looking ahead to the potential labor strike.
Well now it's here, and last night we saw the very first PR move in what will surely be long, dirty, mud-slinging fight.
So now that a certain number of facts are out there, the question is, do we care? Do we side with anybody in this labor dispute, and what do we think of this show of solidarity from the Saints and Vikings last night?
While I tend to side with the players more than the owners, I have to position myself in Golic's camp and say that, overall, I just don't want to listen to players complain or campaign for our support on national television.
They are able to play a game for a living because we pay to support them. When they are out on that field they should be playing football, not carrying out a labor dispute. That is the last way they will earn our support.
And truth be told, what do we fans have to gain from supporting the players? These negotiations do not affect us so long as there is football next year.
But what do YOU think? If, on Sunday, when you sit on your couch, crack open a beer, and turn on the TV to catch some football and the rest of the NFL teams mimic the Saints and Vikings display from last night, what will you do?
Will you raise your finger in the air in a show of solidarity with the players or will you sigh at the thought of there being no football next year and just pray that these two sides come to an agreement before it gets that far?