NFL Lockout Now Likely at the Point of No Return

May 17, 2011 | Thyrl Nelson

The latest batch of what serves as football related news came about on Monday when the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the current, ongoing NFL lockout can and therefore will continue until such time as a full hearing on the lockout’s legality can be heard in early June. Along with that “news” also came encouraging reports that the league’s owners and the faction formerly known as the Player’s Association had extended their latest round of negotiations and that ownership was poised to make another offer. Suddenly it’s beginning to feel like no matter what the league offers up this time around, the players would be unlikely to take it. Indeed it’s beginning to feel like we’ve reached to point of no return in these negotiations and that resolution may not be seen until the entire landscape of the NFL itself and perhaps the rest of American professional sports as whole has undergone a dramatic shake up.

We all knew that this was coming. For those who cared to pay close enough attention, the likelihood that the owners would opt out at the first opportunity from collective bargaining seemed eminent. Certainly by the time last season came around, most were of the mind that it was set to be staged in a lame duck type of scenario that would ultimately lead us to the point in time where we now find ourselves.


The one thing that stood as a potential wildcard capable of changing the course of actions spurred by ownership’s decision to opt out of collective bargaining was the American Needle litigation that the NFL dealt with last year and the door seemingly opened to antitrust matters as a result. Indeed based on the level of attention to that case paid by the rest of the decision makers in American pro sports on the NFL’s behalf, it seemed clear that the precedents established in that legislation threatened to shake up the entire sporting landscape. At stake, a determination by the courts as to whether the league should be seen as 32 competing entities or as a single establishment with 32 competitive arms.


Despite the wholehearted support of their contemporaries at large, the NFL lost that case and in so doing may have opened themselves further to the regulation designed to prevent monopolies in America. Given the undesired outcome of that case from a league standpoint, opening the door to union decertification and more antitrust lawsuits may not have seemed the best course of action. Nevertheless the league decided to head down the path to the unknown once again and may have brought with them their unwitting contemporaries from MLB, the NBA, the NHL and seemingly innumerable other professional sports related organizations.


So now as the movements and machinations of the contentious process that collective bargaining has become have seemingly fallen in the favor of the players at nearly every turn, perhaps the old adage that pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered is finally beginning to ring true in the ears of ownership. If so, the revelations set to come out of this latest offer (on the heels of a rare coup from the courts for the owners) might give us a glimpse into what the owners perceive to be their leverage at present or their apparent lack thereof.


Considering that things have arguably fallen into exactly the order that DeMaurice Smith likely laid out for the NFLPA at the time he was seeking his post at their head, it seems unlikely that the players would be interested at this point in ending this process before it’s run its due course.


If the owners come forward with the same brand of rhetoric and double talk that was apparently prevalent throughout their most recent offer to the union, then we (and the player’s) might be led to believe that ownership too is poised to allow this thing to play out in full. If instead the owners come forward with a deal much more in line with what the union was seeking (even a full concession), it would seem that the former NFLPA might simply see that as a concession that the league is afraid of what may lie ahead in litigation.


In either case, given the extent that both sides have allowed this circus to devolve to at this point, it seems unlikely that the players would be willing to call a halt to the process now, especially as the owners’ positions continue to seemingly weaken. Short of a full concession by ownership it seems unlikely that this will end happily, or quickly for that matter. Perhaps as they are weighing the merits of the league’s latest offer, DeMaurice Smith and the players might also want to be careful to remember that pigs do get fat, and hogs indeed will get slaughtered.