SBD/March 7, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Labor Watch: George Cohen Could Prove To Be Most Valuable Player In Talks

Cohen making sure all parties feel as if they have an equal say
Federal mediator George Cohen, who suggested the latest seven-day extension of talks between the NFL and the NFLPA, "might be the most important skill-position player in this game of high-stakes bargaining," according to Gary Mihoces of USA TODAY (3/7). CBSSPORTS.com's Mike Freeman wrote under the header, "If There's An NFL Season, Cohen May Be Unlikely Hero." Freeman: "What Cohen has done is stunning. Even if the NFL's players and owners do end up annihilating each other, the fact he has gotten both sides to momentarily remove their fingers from the red buttons says a great deal about his abilities." One league official said, "He's building a small amount of trust piece by piece" (CBSSPORTS.com, 3/6). In L.A., Sam Farmer noted throughout mediation, Cohen has "broken the parties into small groups, and occasionally brings them all together in one room." In those "large sessions, the topics and financial numbers are discussed in broader terms." Cohen and his staff are "exceedingly polite with the participants, constantly shuttle from room to room, and provide help whenever they can" (L.A. TIMES, 3/6). Those involved with the negotiations said that Cohen is "especially adept at making all parties feel equally heard," especially players who have "taken an active role" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/5). ESPN's Mark Schwarz said Cohen is the "unsung hero of this negotiation." Schwarz: "He has created what the sides are saying is real communication, real dialogue. Let's face it, there's a lot of testosterone in that room. He has dialed that down some and he's dialed the volume down. From what we're told, this thing came very, very close to blowing up late Thursday" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/7).

ALREADY HELPED SOLVE ONE LABOR CRISIS
: SI.com's King notes last March, MLS and its players' union "spent a couple of weeks locked up" with Cohen during negotiations for a new CBA, and "both sides left the building swearing" by the federal mediator. Galaxy F Landon Donovan said, "The moment we -- me and some of the guys in the league who were a part of the negotiations last year -- saw George was going to be the mediator for the NFL, we all said basically the same thing: that we think the league and the players will get a deal done" (SI.com, 3/7). During the MLS negotiations, SportsBusiness Journal profiled Cohen, "one of the most respected labor lawyers in the country."
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