As football fans throughout the nation anxiously await the on-again, off-again, supposedly-imminent labor deal, it has become increasingly clear to me that NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is most responsible for the fact that the agreement is still unfinished.
I consider his leadership to be an abject failure.
This assessment is not based on the deal on the table itself. From all accounts, it’s very fair to the players. In fact, the league gave the players multiple concessions on total revenue share, practice time restrictions and general benefits. So much so that I have to wonder if the owners don’t regret opting out of the last deal. The players will have a larger share of total gross revenues than ever before, and their commitment in the offseason and regular season has been reduced.
So why is it Saturday, July 23, 2011, and the deal is yet to be signed, especially since the owners have approved it and the lawyers have drawn it up? Because Smith, while looking very commanding and official in his stylish tailored suits and fedora hats, cannot seem to get 1900 feral cats to follow the recommendations they hired him to give. At every turn, he’s been unable to exert sufficient influence over the players while Roger Goodell has by contrast been able to come through on his end. Goodell was able to get 32 billionaires to agree to the deal, including small market “old school” owners like Mike Brown and Ralph Wilson and large market Nuevo owners like Jerry Jones and Robert Kraft. Only Al Davis, who’s either senile or dead, refused to lend support.
The league and the player representation agreed to the deal. They both were happy enough with it that they announced it as such, including congratulatory press conferences and announcements regarding league work schedules and the like.
Then, just as fandom rejoiced, the bottom fell out again. The players somehow decided that they were “bamboozled” by the league; that elements of the deal were added or changed without their knowledge. This dirty pool was somehow managed by the owners despite a bevvy of slimy lawyers analyzing every word and under the watchful eye of Federal mediator Arthur Boylan.
Hogwash. I don’t buy it for one second.
But back to Smith. If the owners were doing something shady, how did Smith allow it to happen? If the players felt some elements of the deal were a surprise to them, why did Smith keep them in the dark about them? Either way, Smith is at fault. Either he doesn’t have the acumen to manage the details or he doesn’t communicate sufficiently to his constituency. Or perhaps he simply can’t lead.
Frankly, I don’t care which one it is. This has dragged on long enough. The players are getting a sweet deal. Labor peace is in their best interests and an immediate return to work is critical for everyone.
The good news is that Smith can still salvage it, though time is running out. He needs to take off his gold cufflinks, roll up his Egyptian cotton sleeves, straighten his silk power tie, and do what he was hired to do.
The owners, the players, and most importantly, the fans, are waiting.