NFL Labor Situation: NFL Players Answer Commissioner Roger Goodell

Gene StrotherCorrespondent IIIMarch 21, 2011

FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - FEBRUARY 04:  Center Kevin Mawae #68 of the Tennessee Titans and President of the NFL Player's Association (2nd R), former NFL running backs Ricky Watters (C) and Barry Sanders (L) look on during the NFL Player's Association Press Conference held at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center as part of media week for Super Bowl XLIV on February 4, 2010 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Remember that summer when you went away to camp and fell in love? You got the girl's address and began writing love letters back and forth. Well, the letters written from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to the NFL players and the one written back to the commissioner by a handful of players are nothing like those summer camp love letters.

They are more like the texts you fired off after the break-up.

Last week, I reported on Goodell's letter to the players and found myself wondering why, if such offers were made, this labor dispute was not resolved. Why were the players being so selfish? Hadn't the owners made significant concessions?

Now, I have read the players' response and I am like, "Ohhhh. Maybe the owners have not been as magnanimous as it seems."

(I know. I am a Piñata. Whack me and I fly that way. Whack me again, and I fly this direction. Keep whacking me and I am going to burst.)

The players' letter was signed by eleven players, which, oddly enough is just the right number to symbolize a "team." NFLPA president Kevin Mawae is the first name on the dotted line. He is joined by Drew Brees, Brian Dawkins, Mike Vrabel and other notables. There is not a "spare" among them. 

Goodell is a lawyer by trade, so it stands to reason he may have actually penned the letter he sent. Or, he could have had a minion write. Who knows? I do not know which of the players wrote their letter. Maybe they all sat around a conference table and collaborated.

"Yeah. Put that in."

"Hey. Don't forget this."

Or, maybe a lawyer or team of NFLPA lawyers drew it up and then the players read it, liked it and signed it. It is all conjecture and hardly worth belaboring, so I will stop.

The players' letter to Goodell was much more detailed than the Commissioner's letter.

First, they exonerated themselves of culpability in this lockout. They write: 

The NFLPA did all it could to reach a fair collective bargaining agreement and made numerous proposals to address the concerns raised by the owners.  In response, the owners never justified their demands for a massive give-back which would have resulted in the worst economic deal for players in major league pro sports.

In other words, Don't blame us. This is all your fault.

Then, the players called Goodell a liar. 

"Your statements are false," they wrote. 

Liar, liar. Pants on fire.

They backed this up by laying out no less than 14 "facts." Since this letter is clearly as much for public consumption as it ever was for Goodell himself, they may have forgotten how short our attention span is or how easily we are overwhelmed with information overload. I mean, we are football fans; not legal aides.

But facts are facts and they had 14 of them.

(I also contend that Goodell's letter was a public relations move as much as it was a headlock, arm-twist and noogie for the players.)

I just cannot see my way clear to write out all 14 facts in this article, especially when I am giving you this link so you, faithful reader, can consume them at your leisure.

One of the more telling facts, however, is number five, which is actually built on the foundation of the first four facts:

Your proposal would have resulted in a league-wide giveback by the players of 576M in 2011 increasing to 1.2 BILLION in 2014, for a total of more than 3.6 BILLION for just the first four years.  Even if revenues increased at a slower rate of only 5%, the players would still have lost over 2 BILLION over the next four years.  These amounts would be even higher if your stadium deductions apply to the first four years (your proposal did not note any such limits on these deductions).

The 14th and final fact is kind of a summary:

The cap system for the past twenty years has always been one in which the players were guaranteed to share in revenue growth as partners.  Your proposal would have shifted to a system in which players are told how much they will get, instead of knowing their share will grow with revenues, and end the partnership.

If the facts check out, one can see that the players have a legitimate beef.

Still, the rancorous tone of the letter seems ill-conceived and, I fear, threatens to paint them in an even worse light with the average NFL fan. The bottom line is they have fans, not because of their sense of justice or their righteous cause. They have fans because they run faster, hit harder and play the game we love better than the rest of the planet.

Saints Fans don't want to see Drew Brees' name on an angry letter to Roger Goodell. They want to see it etched on the Lombardi trophy. Besides, this thing won't be settled in the court of public opinion. It will be either settled in the court of robed lawyers, aka judges, interpreting the law consistent with their ideological leanings and political indebtedness, or (more likely) at the bargaining table.

(OK. Call me jaded. But tell me whether the judge was appointed by Bush or Obama and I can just about give you his ruling before he makes it. So, call me Nostradamus instead.)

While I do find myself moved ever so slightly back in the players' direction, I find myself, like most fans I talk with, hacked at both sides and unable to identify with either. 

Ricky Williams, the Miami Dolphin and renowned lover of herbal things, tweeted Sunday, "It's turned into the billionaire-millionaire fight. I think you have missed the point. Mass media trumps common sense once again."

He seems frustrated that you are so stupid. I predict his frustration will only grow, because it will always be billionaires fighting with millionaires to Joe the plumber and Jimmy, who manages the night shift at McDonald's.

That, I am afraid, is fact 15.