NFL's Guerrilla Warfare: Commissioner Roger Goodell Takes Battle To the Trenches

Gene StrotherCorrespondent IIIMarch 18, 2011

WASHINGTON - MARCH 4: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks to reporters after an extra day of negotiations at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service building March 4, 2011 in Washington, DC.  Representatives from the National Football League (NFL) and and National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA) agreed to continue to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement between players and owners for an additional seven days.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

Call it guerrilla warfare—or gorilla warfare, if you prefer. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided to be the 800-pound gorilla in the living room of every NFL player.

Unsuccessful in moving the NFLPA so much as an inch in the owners' direction during mediation, Goodell has taken the fight to the trenches. He sent a letter to every player in the NFL.

Maybe he was inspired by the recent revolutions around the globe that have been fueled by social media, such as Facebook. Maybe he has seen the power of the grassroots to throw off leadership and blaze a new trail. Whatever his inspiration, the commissioner has side-stepped the decertified NFL Players Association and gone straight to the rank and file to plead his cause.

In his letter to the players, Goodell used several noted and battle-tested tactics.

First, he sought to plant doubt in the player's mind regarding the leadership provided by his representatives.

"Last Friday," Goodell writes, "The NFLPA walked out of the federal mediator's offices in Washington, told us that it had abandoned its right to represent you as a union, and filed a lawsuit."

The implication, of course, is that the leadership betrayed the players' trust by refusing to negotiate and then relinquished their right to represent the players when they decertified. The NFLPA betrayed the very people they were sworn to represent. That is the gist of Goodell's opening statement.

Next, Goodell intimated that the NFL and its member clubs are the real friends of the player.

"The clubs believe there is only one way to resolve our differences, and that is through good faith collective bargaining in an atmosphere of mutual respect..."

Ah. You poor, poor, ignorant soul. Don't you see who really loves you? We are not the enemy. We are your friends. We only want what is best for you.

Goodell's next move was to divide and conquer the players. He sought to drive a wedge between the veteran players and the younger guys. He pointed out that the NFL's proposal to the NFLPA was a salary cap that "would avoid a negative financial impact on veteran players." He even underlined the phrase "avoid a negative financial impact."

The fan, you see, is not the only incredulous party when a rookie signs a record-breaking contract before he ever plays a down of professional football. Veterans that have proved their mettle on the field of play feel the sting when a snot-nosed kid gets a contract that makes his own look like a part-time wage. Goodell implies that it will be the kids, not the veterans, whose compensation will be reduced under the new salary cap structure.

Another piece of the propaganda onslaught is the promise of Utopia. Under our leadership, the prospective leader promises, there will be a chicken in every pot. Goodell used this tactic by outlining the NFL's proposal to reduce the offseason and OTA workout requirements. He notes changes in insurance options and better income protection for injured players.

Goodell's parting shot is to remind the player that his own popularity with the fans and goodwill from the general populous of NFL supporters depends on the the two sides getting together.

"Our fans want us to get together," Roger writes.

And he is right. We do.

When you read the offer made by the owners to the players, you have to wonder what exactly there is not to like about it. Concessions were made. Guarantees were given. Concerns were addressed.

But it still wasn't enough. 

It is little wonder then that General Goodell opted to engage the troops themselves. Negotiations never went anywhere. The NFLPA declared war by taking the fight to the justice system. And you know what they say: All is fair in love and war.

To hear Goodell tell it, this affair is both love and war.

Note: You can read Roger Goodell's letter to the player in its entirety here.