Commentary

Reality check for Miami's Stephen Ross

His comments about labor issues and the NFL lockout don't stand up to scrutiny

Originally Published: May 28, 2011
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

In the wake of his spectacularly tone-deaf comments about the NFL lockout, maybe it's time Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross took a 20 percent pay cut -- just like the one he imposed on some of his team employees. Better yet, he can take a forced two-week unpaid furlough, which is what Detroit Lions ownership ordered its employees to do.

But please, no more lectures on labor rights and wrongs from the hypocrite who tried to hire Jim Harbaugh as the Dolphins' new coach while the team's actual coach, Tony Sparano, flapped in the wind. We need Ross' special perspective on those issues the way landfills need fruit flies.

[+] EnlargeStephen Ross
AP Photo/Alan DiazShould someone remind Stephen Ross that the lockout was called by the owners, not the players?

In an interview earlier this week with USA Today, Ross let his ignorance and arrogance bubble to the surface. Asked about the continuing lockout, Ross laid down some verbal mortar fire.

"Who the hell wants to own a team and not play?" said Ross, who bought the Dolphins in 2008. "It's about having a system that works. It's not about a bunch of greedy owners. It's a bunch of players looking to see how much they can really get."

Ross also believes the Earth is flat, Elvis is alive and living in the penthouse suite at the Bellagio and Lady Gaga is her given name.

Someone needs to remind Ross that this is an owner-orchestrated-and-imposed lockout. NFL players didn't wake up one day and decide not to go to work. The owners decided it for them.

And enough already with, "It's about having a system that works." No, it's about having a system that works for the owners. At the very least, Ross could have been honest about that.

Just because Ross says the owners aren't greedy doesn't mean it's true. It just means that Ross thinks it's true. Have him Google "personal seat licenses" ... "taxpayers and new stadiums" ... "NFL preseason ticket prices" ... "Colts leave Baltimore for Indianapolis," then get back to me.

My favorite is the bit about the players looking to see how much they can really get. Was Ross not in owners school the day the teacher told them the players were happy with the previous collective bargaining agreement? That it was the owners who opted out of the CBA, not the players?

[+] EnlargeArrowhead Stadium ticket window
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesReal, live people used to work at these Arrowhead Stadium ticket windows.

Then Ross, the real estate developer, tried to appeal to Joe Blue Collar.

"We negotiate with unions all the time, and there are issues there," he said. "But they're not the same types of issues. When you're dealing with guys earning over $1 million a year -- the average is, what, $1.87 million? -- you're not talking about the same kind of labor issues. Are these really labor issues? These are not labor issues.

"There should be no sympathy in the labor movement in America for these ballplayers. It's a different deal."

No, instead the labor movement should rally around the likes of everyman Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner who, according to Forbes, just happens to be the 118th-richest man in America and the 362nd-richest man on the planet? Uh, I don't think so.

Of course it's a labor issue. It sure as hell isn't a cheerleader issue. Or an artificial-turf issue.

The owners want to reconfigure the next CBA compensation formula so they get more money and the players get less. How is that any different from Ross' development company wanting to reconfigure a deal with, say, the electricians' union? Answer: It isn't.

Yes, NFL players make a lot of money. But they'll never make as much as NFL owners. And a player's career can end in a nanosecond. So tell me again how many concussion syndrome tests an owner goes through? Or how often he has to slide slowly, step by step down a staircase, as running back Jerome Bettis did the morning after games because his knees and legs were too battered to walk?

Ross wants to talk about averages? OK, the average career for an NFL player lasts either 3.2 years (according to players' union data) or 6.0 years (according to NFL Management Council data). Put it this way: not long.

Meanwhile, the average tenure for 31 of the 32 NFL owners (the Green Bay Packers are publicly owned) is 18.6 years. And counting.

[+] EnlargeStephen Ross & Tony_Sparano
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeTony Sparano, left, signed a two-year extension in January to coach the Dolphins, but not before Ross, right, left him hanging for a while.

The Dolphins, Lions, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Bucs have instituted some form of pay cuts and/or unpaid furloughs. The Baltimore Ravens imposed a 25 percent pay cut for team employees but, to owner Steve Bisciotti's credit, later rescinded it.

The benevolent Ross OK'd a sliding scale of employee pay cuts based on salary. What a guy.

"If we play, they're all getting money back or days off," Ross said. "So it's not really a cutback. We'll definitely make it up. ... We're just kind of delaying cash payments."

Right. And the lockout isn't a labor issue.

Ross isn't "kind of" delaying cash payments to his employees. He is delaying cash payments. And what happens if the lockout bleeds into the preseason or the regular season?

Owners such as Ross don't get it. They endorse a strategy that guarantees a lockout but fail to understand the financial trickle-down effects it has on the worker bees of the organization.

Luckily, Ross has his $3.1 billion in net worth to gut it through the lockout. His employees get a 10-20 percent pay cut.

But as the man said, it's not about a bunch of greedy owners.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. 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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