Blog & Tackle: NFL labor wars

November 20, 2010 | Chris Pika

In this version of “Stories you may have missed…”, I take a look at six pieces written in the last week that you should file away until the labor negotiations between the NFL and the NFLPA begin in earnest sometime after the start of 2011.

There will be a lot of posturing between now and then, but some of the key issues are starting to get attention in interesting ways.

First up, the 18-game schedule proposed by the league, and counterproposed by the NFLPA late October. There has been a lot of discussion on this point because of the amount of injuries that occur over the course of the current 16-game schedule, and how much or little offseason workouts or bye weeks the new agreement will have.

FOXSports.com’s Alex Marvez broke down the breakdowns on each NFL roster at midseason, and with the recent emphasis on player safety rules, adding to the amount of regular-season games is getting a lot of backlash from players and the media.

In “Injuries are becoming more common“, Marvez writes:

“But as it stands now, a 16-game docket seems rough enough. Dating back to the offseason, NFL teams have already placed 34 more players on injured reserve through 10 weeks (311) than at this point last year (277). The final numbers will assuredly be the highest since the NFL began playing with 32 teams in 2002.”

Of the five teams Marvez lists as “On Life Support”, three are playoff contenders: Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and San Diego. All five clubs in his “Intensive Care” section – Baltimore, Green Bay, Miami, New York Giants and St. Louis – are in the playoff mix.

One of the senior writers who covers the NFL, Clark Judge of CBSSports.com, says that current and former players should be involved in how discipline for hits on the field should be judged.

In his “Simple fix for NFL’s tough hits problem: Listen to players“, Judge writes:

“Look, I don’t care whether you agree with players’ complaints or not, but you can’t deny there are a lot of people out there who don’t understand what passes for good, clean, aggressive tackling anymore. So make them understand.

How? I thought you’d never ask. Assemble a panel that includes more than just members of the NFL officiating and operations offices. In essence, do what Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu suggests and include current and former players in the review process. Then maybe, just maybe, we start getting somewhere.

First of all, you’d have players join league officials in formulating a clear and consistent message. Second, you’d make a conciliatory gesture that could have repercussions in current and upcoming labor talks. I mean, if more players believed they were being heard by the NFL then maybe more players would be receptive to what the league had to say.”

Earlier this week, the NFL Players Association held a conference call with labor/union/issue bloggers to discuss the state of the negotiations between the league and the players’ association.

George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director and NFLPA President Kevin Mawae made the presentation.

The full transcript, available, on NFLLockout.com (a site put together by the NFLPA), goes over the recent talking points. Atallah, in his opening remarks said this:

“We consider things like health and safety, employee work place issues, financial transparency, all of the things that come up in everyday conversations in businesses across America are the same conversations that we’re having on a daily basis. It’s gotten to the point now where we’re 107 days away from the expiration of the CBA and while we continue to talk with the league about the possible fair deals, and things of that nature, we still believe a lockout is coming, unfortunately. It’s gotten to the point now where we as a union, as players, and as fans, frankly, need to do everything we can to prevent it.”

Mawae, on the impact of a lockout on the community at large in NFL cites, said:

“What I’ve found out is our players are heavily involved and they’re very educated on our issues. I think that’s been one of our key initiatives over the last four years is to get our players up-to-date and educated on everything that’s happening in collective bargaining. They’ve done that. Some of the biggest concerns are the fact that we won’t play, that we won’t have a job, that our players won’t have a job next year when it’s time to kick-off to 2011 season. Another concern is what does it do to all the personnel that make an NFL game happen? That includes the stadium workers, the police officers that provide support and security, concession workers and the community as a whole, not just a national but in every NFL city. Those are real concerns for the players.”

As a point of emphasis, the league has their own web site where the NFL’s views on the state of the negotiations are posted: www.NFLLabor.com.

One of the NFL owners, the Dolphins’ Stephen Ross, was a featured speaker at this week’s Sports Business Journal’s Sports Media & Technology conference in New York. His remarks at the event made news in the labor wars, and might give some insight into how some of his fellow owners feel about where the game is going.

A blog on the South Florida Sun Sentinel by Sarah Talalay, “Dolphins owner talks NFL expansion, labor and the Super Bowl” gave some insight into Ross’ remarks, especially on expansion into Los Angeles or the move of a current NFL team into that market or internationally:

“On expansion: Ross said he believe there needs to be a team in Los Angeles, and perhaps two to make the economics a stadium there work.

“I think it’s important to the NFL to have a team in Los Angeles, you have the second largest media market in the country,” Ross said. “The question is how you pay for a stadium. There’s no money available for the stadium and the cost will be over $1 billion.”

Beyond LA, Ross suggests Toronto as a market to potentially land the Buffalo Bills.”

Ross also made several remarks about the proposed 18-game schedule that caught the attention of the NFLPA. From Talalay’s story, “Dolphins’ Ross still believes team can make playoffs“, this nugget:

“The additional games, the studies show will not really increase injuries,” Ross said. “We’re still playing 20 games, we’re eliminating two preseason games and adding two regular-season games, which is really what helps with the revenues, and make the fans a lot happier and those games will be a lot more meaningful. But in terms of the players, they’re still playing 20 games.”

And almost immediately, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith pointed out that Ross had lost two quarterbacks in the same game last week due to injury. The league defended Ross in statements from NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, repeated in this post from NFLLabor.com.

“‘Mr. Ross made basic factual points that have been made repeatedly — that we are not proposing to add to the current 20-game season and that the overall injury rate per game remains consistent,’ said Aiello. ‘DeMaurice Smith knows very well that the health and safety issues of converting to the proposed 18-2 season are being addressed with the union in a comprehensive way encompassing the year-found football calendar …”

As the regular season stretches into the final six weeks, there will be more reporting on these subjects. What you have read above will all play into a final agreement, whenever that is reached. And depending on who you believe, that agreement could come quickly, or NFL fans could miss on several weeks of the 2011 season.

Stay tuned …

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