Labor disputes are never pretty. We knew that when the NFL Players Association decertified in an attempt to preempt any potential lockout that this process was going to become long and ugly. The problem with these kind of disputes is that often times there are a lot of innocent bystanders who get hurt in the process.
I’m not just talking about the fans, although they certainly are being unfairly asked to watch these two entities whine in public about how to split billions of dollars. I’m not talking about the run of the mill people who are employed by the teams, whether it be ushers, ticket salespeople, secretaries, etc, who potentially face job insecurity if there’s no football this fall.
No, I’m actually talking about some of the players themselves. Well, to be more accurate, I’m talking about future players. The guys who are currently former college football players but not yet professional football players. I’m talking about the draft prospects.
For anyone not following this case and who wasn’t yet heard, it was announced yesterday that the players union, or rather, whatever it is they want to call themselves in the wake of their fake decertification, has asked the top draft prospects who would normally be invited to New York City for the draft, to stay away.
Which is funny in and of itself for two reasons. First of all, the union decertified. They should no long have the authority to tell the players to do anything if they’re serious about being decertified. Furthermore, as Mike Florio pointed out at PFT, even if they were still a union, the players don’t actually become members of the union until they are drafted, so the union never really had this authority to begin with.
Regardless, the players union is treading a fine line here. I pointed out in the comments yesterday that I was leaning more toward the owners in the first place, but this petty act on the part of the players has pushed me over the edge.
What’s funny is that in principle I agree with the players. I think it’s absurd for the owners to ask the players to give back more money and play 2 extra games every season without opening their books and showing the players why this is necessary. But the actions of the players union in recent weeks has been offensive to me. For all the talk about who is locking out whom, the reality is that it was the players who chose decertification and litigation over another extension which would have allowed good faith negotiations to continue. The owners made concessions and showed us that they were willing to give on issues in order to keep negotiations moving forward. It was the players’ choice to get us to this point.
Again, though, this is all secondary to the main point at hand. The sad truth is that some young men are about to be seriously robbed of one of the biggest moments of their lives. They are about to lose the reward they’ve earned for all the years of hard work and sacrifice they have made. For a college player, the ultimate dream is to be a top pick in the NFL Draft. To be invited to the big city. To hear your name called and get to walk on stage, shake the commissioner’s hand, put on your new team’s hat, hold up your jersey, have your picture taken, and talk to the media in attendance. It’s a chance to share such a monumental moment with your family members, many of whom have also sacrificed for the players to be there.
The union says it is looking out for the best interests of the players, but I can’t see how this is what’s best for them. What’s truly best for them would be for the union to allow them to go to the draft with their families, let them go through the process, let them fly to the city they are drafted and meet with the coaches to get their playbook and any instructions/advice, let them meet the local media, and then join the other players in staying away. I fail to see what the harm would be in this situation.
It would be good for the players to have their moment as well as to be able to get some information from their teams on what to expect, how they might be used, and things they should be working on while locked out. It would be good for the fans to still get to experience the draft they love and to get a brief introduction to their new favorite players. Instead, the union continues to suck the joy out of football.
Obviously under the laws of this nation, the players union is not doing anything they don’t have the right to do. But just because you have the right to do something, it doesn’t mean you are immune from criticism for your actions. The union is wrong here, and they know it.
When the immediate loud criticism began raining down on them yesterday, they quickly leaked information to let everyone know they were merely offering abstaining from the draft as a “suggestion” to the players, not an order. Now they’re talking about a number of other ridiculous alternatives, including holding their own ceremonies elsewhere in New York City and/or doing some kind of bizarre social media coverage of the players who get drafted.
No matter how you spin it, it’s still an alternative. It’s not the real deal, and it’s a moment these players will never get back. The Players Association had better think long and hard about whether they really want to be so vindictive as to take away this moment from players who haven’t even yet had a voice in their union yet. Dragging young men into the ugliness of this war before they’ve even yet to earn one single paycheck or play in one single game seems to me to be a bit much.
Hopefully the players union will come to their senses and do the right thing and let the players attend the draft. Furthermore, hopefully both the players and the owners can all get their heads on straight and find a solution to this problem without dragging this out in court. Don’t cross your fingers on that one, though. With no more rights to collectively bargain thanks to this decertification charade, this situation seems almost certain to drag out the entire summer. Enjoy your offseason, football fans.
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