Yesterday, at the site of Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, where the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers meet Sunday, in what could be the only NFL game of 2011, DeMaurice Smith called for transparency. Smith is the chief negotiator for the NFLPA, and in an unprecedented move, he took the podium during the association's annual 'State of the Union' address. Usually that duty would fall to NFLPA preident Kevin Mawae, whose job includes hosting this press conference every year during Super Bowl week.
But this year is not like any other year, with the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire on March 3, and the threat of a lockout, rumored since October, has begun to look like a certainty.
So Mawae let his chief negotiator carry the ball, and he stood to the side, microphone in hand, occasionally punctuating Smith's points and answering reporters questions. And DeMaurice Smith ran with it, his opening comments were well written; he used a time-worn politicians maneuver by telling the story of how he 'spoke to a bar owner in Green Bay, who said he'd lose his bar, if there was no football next season.' And as hoary a meme as that type of anecdote is, it only scratches the surface of showing who the real victims of a lockout would be.
If the owners do stage a lockout on March 4, the players and owners will already begin to lose money, but for the most part, they can afford it. The players and their families would also stand to lose their health insurance. A hot button issue in these times, but they also have a very good union that could provide some sort of stop-gap coverage should the need arise.
Then there's 'the bar owner in Green Bay', and even he might be alright for awhile, if he plans carefully. But what about his employees? The bartenders and bussers, living mostly on tips? Losing their insurance isn't even a concern for them, chances are they don't have any now. Their income is all going to food and shelter.
Or how about the guy who delivers the beer to that bar? No customers in Green Bay, means less deliveries. And in turn, less need for trucks out of Milwaukee.
Then there are the thousands of other people who depend on the small amount of money they make selling concessions, foam fingers, directing you to your seat or your parking spot. Cleaning your hotel room, if you're taking in a road game.
This is not just a conflict between angry millionaires and greedy billionaires. It's also very much about the 32 communities that will suffer financially from the tens of thousands of jobs lost.
And it's also about protecting your investment. That's right. Your investment.
Because chances are, your money has gone into one of those NFL stadiums. They've been built with public funds, and the owners given sweetheart deals to conduct their business in them. And we do that to keep the concessionaires, the ushers, and the security guards, and all those other people working, contributing to the local economy.
If a lockout occurs as they fight over a larger piece of the pie, they will starve thousands of people. Or at the very least put them on the streets. It's no exaggeration; as we now know, even Green Bay has homeless people.
DeMaurice Smith told reporters that the NFLPA just wants the owners to provide transparency, to 'open up the books'. Maybe that's a good idea. Maybe we should all get a chance a to see how much money there is in play. It's not just money that we've spent on NFL goods and games, it's also money we put in so they'd have a place to play.
How real is the possibility of a lockout? Well the NFL did hire Bob Batterman as a negotiator. That's the same Bob Batterman who brought you the hockey strike of 2004/05. His experience in 'negotiating' is stopping play. The owners' moves up to this point, all seem to indicate it's going to happen.
What can you and I do about it?
For starters, you can join the Sports Fans Coalition, a group who are dedicated to representing the fans of professional sports. When it comes to making speeches on camera, both owners and players love to proselytize about how important the fans are, how dedicated they are to the fans, etc.
Well, the Sports Fans Coalition actually is dedicated to the fans, and it works directly in our interests. Look at their web site, and find out who they are, and what they're doing to help you during the labor negotiations. While you're there, sign the petition at Save Next Season.
Get your voice out there. Your money is already in the pot.