NFL Labor Talks: Can NY Giants Owner John Mara Save NFL from Itself?

Benjamin C. Klein@@BenjaminCKleinCorrespondent IApril 10, 2011

WASHINGTON - MARCH 10:  John Mara, owner of the New York Giants, arrives at the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service building March 10, 2011 in Washington, DC.  Representatives from the National Football League (NFL) and National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA) continue to negotiate a labor dispute during a 7 day extension of talks.  (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

With the NFL lockout continuing to drag on, New York Giants co-owner John Mara might have to take a page out of his father Wellington’s playbook and save the NFL from itself.

In other words, John Mara has to go rogue.

But there is no guarantee that Mara sees it the same way. Not to mention he recently got saddled with jury duty, so he might not have the time to go rogue.  

In fact, while Mara is serving jury duty it is possible that the NFL players and owners sit down for a new round of mediation, as was recommended by the judge currently overseeing the players' anti-trust suit against the NFL and hammer out a deal.

But if that doesn’t happen, which seems likely, Mara needs to go off the reservation from the rest of the owners and figure out a way to ensure the American public is not deprived of professional football for even a week.

While I cannot say for certain that Mara is up to the task, or even what he should do to fix the situation, Mara has some things in his corner that make me think he might be adequately capable here.

John’s father was Wellington Mara, the Duke. It was Wellington and his brother Jack that came up with the concept of revenue sharing, whereby large-market teams like the Giants would share revenue generated with small-market teams such as Green Bay and Pittsburgh, thus not only allowing their success but ensuring their survival as well.

If Wellington hadn’t spearheaded such a truly selfless and revolutionary concept, the NFL would not be what it is today.

John Mara has also publicly stated that he feels his loyalty is first and foremost to NFL fans, not his fellow owners. This says to me that Mara is not afraid to contradict his fellow owners.  

And Mara’s actions back up his words, as the Giants are the only NFL team to not demand ticket payments for the upcoming season from season ticket holders during the lockout. While this has ticked off other owners, apparently Mara’s loyalty truly is to the fans, not the other owners.

And it must be said that while mediation failed and the lockout did happen, Mara was the first owner to show up to the meetings and he has publicly stated in his plea to get out of his jury duty that he is one of the lead negotiators for the owners with the players.

This means that Mara is the rare NFL owner right now who has credibility with the players, his fellow owners and the fans. It is my hope that Mara can use some of that credibility to end this lockout sooner than later.

But the biggest roadblock to labor peace in the NFL is not disagreements between owners and players, but owners and other owners.

A lot of fans do not realize that it isn’t just players against owners that created this lockout, it’s owners against owners against players. Much more complicated.

You have teams like the Denver Broncos that have publicly stated that they are willing to show detailed economic reports with the players, something that if every NFL team agreed on would expedite this process to supersonic speeds. But owners like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys has stated he has no interest in sharing financial information with his competitors.

In the same vein, revenue sharing is also still an issue with big city owners like Bob McNair of the Houston Texans and Jerry Jones opposing the high rate of revenue sharing and wanting a lower one, while small market teams like the Buffalo Bills shudder in fear at the idea.

This is where I think Mara can be more valuable to NFL labor talk than as a negotiator for them with the players.

New York City is the biggest city in America and the next biggest city, Los Angeles, is half the size and does not even have a team. This means that Mara has a unique soapbox to stand on because his team exists in the market with the highest profit potential and it isn’t even close.

If Mara were to both ensure that revenue sharing remained the same while in some way getting behind the release of economic data from individual teams to the players in a way that does not compromise confidentiality, talks with the players would run much smoother, and I believe would be completed easily.

Now that is not the only option I am sure, as I am not a lawyer. But John Mara is a lawyer, and it is my hope that he, like his father before him, not only figures out a way to ensure that a lockout does not hurt the league in the short-term, but strengthens the long-term viability of the league at the same time.