The NFL owners took a huge gamble on Thursday when they announced that a labor agreement had been completed with the players, even though it has now become obvious that the deal was far from agreed upon.
And when you take a gamble, sometimes it blows up in your face.
The owners' obvious attempt at painting the players into a corner has backfired horribly. They now look like the greedy bullies that we all, deep down, knew they were.
The idea was brilliant. They spent all week leaking out the news that the deal was all but done and that Thursday night would be the night we all went to bed with the surefire knowledge that our beloved NFL football would be there in September, just like it always is.
Then, when they held the press conference to announce the deal, which was, in reality, just another proposal, they acted like the players had already given their approval and all that was left was for them to rubber stamp everything.
They even told us when camps would open and when teams would start to sign free agents, all the things that make us salivate at the mere thought of them coming to reality. We’ve been waiting months to see what our favorite teams are going to look like this fall, and the owners made it look like it was actually happening.
Again, all brilliant on their part. The players would look like they were the ones keeping us from having football back in our lives if they didn’t play along. The owners must have gone into that press conference thinking they were going to pull off the best high-pressure power play since Mike McDermott took down the Mad Russian.
They underestimated two key things, though: that players can immediately get their side of the story out in today’s world because of Twitter and that nobody likes a bully.
This move would have worked every day of the week, and twice on Sunday, 20 years ago. They would have held the press conference, and their side of the story would have dominated the headlines the next morning.
Not so in 2011. Within minutes of the owners going on national television and attempting a historic punking of the union, players were able to call their bluff publicly. Instead of only the owner's time line being talked about on SportsCenter last night and this morning, the players' Tweets were the leading story.
It quickly became obvious what the owners were trying to do. They were trying to bully the players into taking whatever deal they put on the table, because otherwise they would look like the bad guys.
Too bad we’re all too smart for that. The ruse was quickly called out, and the owners started looking like the big bad meanies trying to stick it to the players.
And that is where they underestimated the most important factor in public relations. Americans hate the bully. We hate the idea that someone tries to take advantage of someone else, even if that someone else is a spoiled, million-dollar-earning athlete.
The backlash toward the owners has come strongly and swiftly, and they deserve every last bit of it.
The players should stand their ground and do their homework on this deal. If it’s a good deal for them, then go ahead and sign off and we can all get back to the sport we love like a bad addiction.
But if it’s not (and after that obvious power play the owners tried last night, who knows what they tried to sneak into the agreement) the players should not allow themselves to be pushed around.
In the end, there will be football this fall; I think we’ve all known that from the beginning. But I think after the way the owners played this thing, for once, the spoiled, million-dollar athletes are going to be the ones who come out looking like the good guys.