Time for Roger Goodell to cut his losses
The commissioner is still trying to sell his story despite the lifting of the lockout
As spin doctors go, Roger Goodell is his own teaching hospital. The NFL commissioner can perform plastic surgery on the perception of these labor negotiations as if it were a tummy tuck.
Sometimes, especially after he's massaged the facts into a total state of relaxation, you want to shake his hand and say, "Well played, Mauer." That's how good he can be -- which is one of the reasons the NFL owners hired him in the first place.
As the face of the league, Goodell reaches out in very human ways. The $1 salary announcement. The meet-and-greets with NFL fans. The conference calls with season-ticket holders. Very nice.
But his latest propaganda effort is as smooth as driveway gravel. It comes in the form of an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal about the latest lockout developments, and it feels more calculated than sincere. It feels spinny.
First of all, if I want to plead my case to America's football public, the Wall Street Journal might not have been my first choice. It's a great place to read about the Federal Reserve's inflation paradox, offshore subsidiaries and the Asia markets. But I don't think its subscriber base includes many members of, say, the Cleveland Browns' Dawg Pound or the Washington Redskins' Hogettes.
Then again, maybe that was the point. Perhaps Goodell was pleading his case to corporate America, not football America. If so, it was another in a conga line of miscalculations by NFL management.
You can read the Goodell op-ed piece for yourself. But the gist of it is this: "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, HELP US! THE BIG, MEAN U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE AND THE EVEN BIGGER, MEANER PLAYERS' UNION LAWYERS ARE GOING TO RUIN THE NFL! WE'LL HAVE -- GASP! -- A FREE-MARKET SYSTEM!"
It is Goodell's doomsday scenario. It is also a scare tactic, and a clumsy one at that.
Goodell and the owners are mad that Judge Susan Nelson ruled for the players and ended the NFL-imposed lockout on Monday. The owners immediately took the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals -- sort of the league's legal Hail Mary pass.
In the meantime, Goodell and his laptop went to work.
Wrote Goodell: "For six weeks, there has been a work stoppage in the National Football League as the league has sought to negotiate a new collective-bargaining agreement with the players. But Judge Nelson ordered the end of the stoppage and recognized the players' right to dissolve their union. By blessing this negotiating tactic, the decision may endanger one of the most popular and successful sports leagues in history."
Uh, Roger, it wasn't a work stoppage. It was a lockout. A lockout that the owners initiated and executed. There was a work stoppage because the owners told the players to quit coming to work.
And I love how Goodell says the decision "may endanger" the NFL. Not, "I guarantee you it will." Not, "I have concrete proof that it will." Just the possibility that it will. Nothing more. The truth is, the ruling may not endanger the NFL at all.
Goodell also jumps directly from Point A (the lockout has ended) to Point Z (the reign of free-agent terror and chaos is upon us). What happened to all the letters in between?
Does Goodell really think there isn't going to be an eventual negotiated settlement? Does he really think the owners and players aren't going to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement? If he doesn't -- and I've said it before -- he needs to resign immediately.
Goodell and the owners want it both ways. You can cut the hypocrisy with a spork.
More Goodell: "Is this the NFL that players want? A league where elite players attract enormous compensation and benefits while other players -- those lacking the glamour and bargaining power of the stars -- play for less money, fewer benefits and shorter careers than they have today? A league where the competitive ability of teams in smaller communities (Buffalo, New Orleans, Green Bay and others) is forever cast into doubt by blind adherence to free-market principles that favor teams in larger, better-situated markets?"
Cue string music.
So let me get this straight: It's OK if NFL owners adhere to free-market principles when they sell their teams to the highest bidder or bolt to another city for a sweetheart stadium and luxury suite deal. But it's not OK for the players to have the same options?
And I hate to break it to Goodell, but the league already favors teams in larger, better-situated markets. That's why Daniel Snyder spends money on his Washington Redskins (hello, Albert Haynesworth) as if he's printing Benjamins in the trainer's room. That's why Jerry Jones can leverage his holdings to build a $1.2 billion JerryWorld. That's why there's a waiting line to become an NFL owner in the first place.
"Prior to filing their litigation, players and their representatives publicly praised the current system and argued for extending the status quo," Goodell wrote. "Now they are singing a far different tune, attacking in the courts the very arrangements they said were working just fine."
But weren't the owners also saying the system was broken? Isn't that why the owners locked out the players? They wanted a new, more management-friendly CBA.
Goodell said in the WSJ piece that the current system provides "incentives" that resulted in "two dozen new and renovated stadiums." Interesting, since Goodell has argued in the past that the current system isn't conducive to new infrastructure expenditures such as stadiums. So which is it, Commish?
Perhaps it's time for Goodell and the owners to admit the obvious. They've been outflanked by the players' union/"trade association" on every front: on the negotiating front, the legal front and the public relations front.
Most of all, it's time for the owners to realize they overplayed their position. They went for the pump fake and got burned.
No more op-ed pieces. No more worst-case scenarios. Dr. Goodell needs to give up his spin practice.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
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