SBD/Issue 248/NFL Season Preview

Saints, Vikings Players Show Unity Amid Ongoing Labor Dispute

Vikings And Saints Players Pointed A Finger To
The Sky Before Gesturing To Each Other

Vikings and Saints players prior to Thursday night's NFL season-opener "lined up facing each other, pointed a finger skyward, then gestured to their opponents as a show of union solidarity," according to Jarrett Bell of USA TODAY. As the NFL season kicked off in New Orleans, it "was obvious the labor issue was on the players' mind." NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith prior to Thursday's game "expressed hope" that a new CBA "could be finalized by late November." Smith added, however, that he "wishes a deal had been done months ago." He declined to "place odds on a work stoppage," and also "wouldn't rule out the chance the union would decertify if there was a lockout." When asked if he is more optimistic than in recent months about getting a new CBA, Smith said, "Until the ink is dry on a new deal, that's the only time I can tell the players and their families that football's going to continue" (USA TODAY, 9/10). NFL.com's Steve Wyche reported Smith agreed with recent comments made by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell "that it would be in the best interest of all parties to reach a new collective bargaining agreement before the current deal expires in March." Smith said, "The players of the National Football League would love to have a deal done in November. The players will want a deal done before March" (NFL.com, 9/9). More Smith: "We've mentioned a lockout only because that's what the league has been preparing for since 2007. Our job is to prepare our players for the worst even while we hope for the best." Smith did describe his relationship with Goodell as "excellent." Smith met with Saints players on Monday, "but did not mention any negotiations that might have occurred in New Orleans this week" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 9/10).

UNITED WE STAND: Saints QB Drew Brees, a member of the NFLPA Exec Board, said that Thursday night's gesture by the players "was coordinated to send a message to the NFL that the players are united in their current negotiations for a new CBA." He said, "Even though five minutes from then we were going to go out and bash each others' heads in, we're all one voice" (USATODAY.com, 9/10). Vikings G and player rep Steve Hutchinson said, "That was just an idea that came from probably the Executive Committee and it's something that all the reps had talked about over conference call and not unlike what they did in the '80s, short of going out and shaking hands prior to the strike. But we just wanted to show everybody that we're unified as a union, as the players and that's a serious deal." Saints LB Jonathan Vilma: "We're hearing that it's likely going to happen more than not and want to let the NFL know, let the owners know, let our fans know that we're sticking together as teammates … as brothers off the field and we're going to be in this together." ESPN's Adam Schefter noted, "It's an indication of how tense the talks are between the two sides right now. … What we saw last night may very well continue with this weekend's games as players try to continue to show that they are united” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 9/10). ESPN analyst and former NFLer Mark Schlereth: “It shows the fans, it shows the league in general and it shows the owners that, 'Hey guys, we're united. If you lock us out, we're together on this thing. Let's come together and let's figure out a way'” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 9/10).

SENDING THE WRONG MESSAGE? ESPN's Mike Greenberg said, "The decision to make a very public display of it last night – whether it did a whole lot for you or not – I guess maybe the question is I wonder how many fans were turned off by that. We've waited eight months for a football game, and now the first thing we get is you guys reminding us, 'Hey, we've got major labor issues here.'" ESPN’s Mike Golic: "People don't want to hear this. They don't want to hear it. I'm sorry Drew Brees, they don't want to hear you saying, 'The owners don't want us to play.’ … In my opinion it's a bad move to do anything publicly because the fans, all they see are billionaires and millionaires. Players, owners, keep this thing under wraps. You are going to get no fans and no winners out of this one amongst the public out there" ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 9/10).

MORE RHETORIC FROM THE TEAMS' SIDE: Packers President & CEO Mark Murphy discussed the CBA situation on CNBC Thursday and noted since the current labor deal was signed in '06, player costs "have grown at twice the rate of our revenue." Murphy said, "So obviously that's not something we're too pleased about, and we hope to address that in a couple of ways through the bargaining process." He noted the teams are "just hopeful that we can reach an agreement." Murphy: "We want an agreement that works not only for the owners, but also for the players and the fans. ... The players and the owners have worked together as partners and everybody has benefitted and we want that to continue. The players know that we want the economic system changed. ... Opening the books is not going to solve the problem but I'm really hopeful that we can reach an agreement with the players" ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 9/9).

MAWAE RETIRING: In Nashville, Jim Wyatt reports Titans C and NFLPA President Kevin Mawae will announce his retirement Friday afternoon. Mawae, a 16-year veteran, has indicated that he feels he "attracted little interest in free agency ... in part, because of his role" with the union. He will "remain serving in that capacity until his term ends in March 2012" (TENNESSEAN.com, 9/10).

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