Commentary

NFL players should bag silly gesture

Originally Published: September 11, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

OK, we get it. You're united. You're one union, one voice. Now enough already with the over-dramatic, inappropriate and yawn-inducing "we're oppressed" pregame show of solidarity.

It'd be one thing if NFL players were fighting for their livelihoods, for basic medical coverage or pension benefits. But they're not. They're making more money than ever. So are NFL owners. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady just signed a $72 million deal ($48.5 million guaranteed). New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis recently agreed to a four-year, $46 million contract ($32 million guaranteed). San Francisco 49er Vernon Davis is now the highest-paid tight end in the history of the game, thanks to a five-year, $37 million extension ($34 million guaranteed).

And have you seen the valuations of these NFL franchises? According to Forbes, the lowest is the Jacksonville Jaguars at $725 million. The Dallas Cowboys are at $1.8 billion. So it's not like the owners are Edward the Longshanks and the players are Norma Rae.

Nothing personal, but the last thing I want on my football Sunday, Monday or Thursday is a reminder of labor unrest. I want the NFL, not the NFLPA. I want an escape, not a negotiations seminar. You want to march onto the field, poke your forefingers in the air and act like you work in a Philippines sweatshop? Then do it on your own time. Nobody who pays thousands of hard-earned dollars for those rip-off personal seat licenses comes to games for labor demonstrations.

I'm not anti-union. I'm anti-publicity stunt. And that's all this was -- a well-intentioned but silly public gesture that will have zero impact on future negotiations.

Seriously, do you think the owners curled into the fetal position when they saw those raised forefingers before the Vikings-Saints game Thursday night? They rolled their eyes, that's what they did. And you don't see the owners stomping out of their stadium suites before the game, defiantly clinking their champagne flutes with each other as a sign of togetherness.

Anyway, you're either united or you're not. It's a like that line in "A Few Good Men,'' where Tom Cruise's Kaffee tells Dawson: "You don't need a patch on your arm to have honor." Same with the players. You don't need a finger schtick to have unity.

Not only is the gesture ill-conceived, it's ill-timed. The season in jeopardy is 2011, not 2010. We're a YEAR away from that first regular-season kickoff and six months before the possibility of a work stoppage reaches true critical mass. But the players, in an effort to project strength, draw a line in the turf with the pregame finger thing.

Would it be nice, as NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has said, to have an agreement in place by this November? Sure. Nobody -- the players, the owners, the fans, the TV networks, fantasy leaguers, the people whose livelihoods depend on games -- wants an NFL-free 2011. But stunts like this aren't going to bring the two parties to the negotiating table.

Distilled to its purest greed form, this latest dispute is about revenue sharing. NFL owners want to reduce the amount of money the players receive from the league's total revenue. The players, understandably, don't want to give back a penny. They don't trust the owners, and who can blame them? Until the owners open their accounting books, I wouldn't trust them either.

Something has to give and hopefully it won't the be 2011 season. I'm rooting for sanity to prevail and for a deal that's fair to Longshanks and Norma Rae -- the sooner, the better. In the meantime, the players need to keep the posturing -- and the fingers -- to themselves.

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.

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