View Full Version : Locked out NFL players are poised to stick together

03-20-2011, 10:38 AM
Locked out NFL players are poised to stick together
By Clark Judge
CBSSports.com Senior Writer
March 19, 2011Tell Clark your opinion!

MARCO ISLAND, Fla. -- The last time there was a labor stoppage in the NFL, veteran players couldn't wait to cross the picket line and return to work. But now there are no picket lines because there is no strike. There's a lockout. And you know something? That could be good for the players.

Let me explain. If there are no picket lines -- or "barricades to cross," as former player and permanent player rep Pete Kendall put it -- there's no temptation to return to work. And with no temptation, there are no defections.

Meaning? Meaning no one breaks ranks to join the other side.

OK, let's be honest: There's always the temptation to return to work -- especially if you have to pay a mortgage or assume health insurance or deal with an expense requiring a certified check. And there's certainly the temptation to return to the lucrative business of pro football, with players at this weekend's annual meetings reiterating how much they want to get back to what they do.

"What have we done wrong?" asked New England assistant player rep Alge Crumpler, "What we want to do is get back on the field. Everybody, if they don't know, they should know that."

My guess is that owners know that. Or should. Players crossed picket lines in 1974, and they crossed in 1987, and it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out what it all means -- namely, that the longer players are out of work, the less likely they are to stick together. That doesn't mean they can't; it means they probably won't, and don't tell me owners don't know that.

Only there's a difference now for a couple of reasons: 1) Players are better informed than they were in the past, especially if you're talking about a 1987 strike, and 2) they have no choice but to stick together. Even if they wanted to defect or were compelled to cross to the other side, they can't -- and, strange as it might seem, that could help their ability not just to preach solidarity but to maintain it.

Granted, players might not have to wait that long. They're suing the NFL to end the lockout, with the case to be heard April 6, and if they win they're back to work. But if they lose ... ah, nothing changes, and we're back to one side waiting out the other all over again.

"It is such a different dynamic this time around," New England player rep Matt Light said. "I heard [former NFL player] Don Hasselbeck ... tell the stories and the guys who are still angry with guys who crossed the lines. That was a real problem. That obviously is not the problem now.

"Look, I'll tell you as a rep that I don't have to deal with that issue. Over the last two years the number-one message coming out of 'D' [NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith] and all of our advocates ... it's always been about sticking together and understanding the issues and education."

It was about sticking together in 1987, too, but that didn't work out so well -- largely because the NFL produced a shrewd plan to produce football without its union, hiring replacement players -- OK, scabs -- to work three games. But that was then, and this is now, and now players insist that can't happen again because times are different, and so is communication.

"Guys are more informed than they've ever been," said Cleveland player rep Scott Fujita, one of 10 plaintiffs in an antitrust lawsuit vs. the NFL. "I've been in the league 10 years now, and it's in stark contrast to what it was three or four years ago. It's just that guys are engaged."

OK, I'll buy that. But being "engaged" doesn't pay the bills, and this is where players are at a considerable disadvantage. They can insist that they're the side that's more honest, sincere and willing to negotiate, but in the end it doesn't matter. What does is who blinks first, and, in past NFL work stoppages, that hasn't been the owners.

The reason is simple economics. Owners have deeper pockets, which means they're better prepared to withstand prolonged strikes, lockouts, you name it, than their adversaries. In fact, one agent at the annual NFL scouting combine said the real pressure here won't come until players start missing game checks, which is what happened in 1987 and 1982.

But remember: There's no picket line to cross this time around. Players can't go back to work because there's no work to go back to. Plus, players insist they're ready for a war of attrition, with Smith suggesting a lockout fund already is in place to deal with players' financial needs.

But that's not all. At Saturday's closed-door meetings, one quarterback suggested that veterans consider pooling money to contribute to a fund to aid players -- particularly young players -- with future financial needs. No action was taken, but it was something that at least had players thinking.

"I don't know," one player rep said, "but if I were asked to contribute $50,000, I might do it. I mean, if you multiply that by, let's say, 200 players, that's $10 million, and that could last awhile."

Players could use it. What they don't need is another picket line to cross. Good thing for them there isn't one.