The billionaires and the millionaires simply can't get along. Friday afternoon, after a couple of weeks of negotiating with league owners on a new labor agreement, the NFL Players Association filed papers to decertify its union, effectively ending the talks.
If the owners decide to impose a lockout (where they do not allow players to use any team facilities for any reason), the players now have the ability to sue the NFL under antitrust laws. Several players have already pledged to do just that. Names on that list reportedly include Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
So it's nearly guaranteed the future of the most lucrative sports league in North America and its $9.3 billion in revenue will be decided in a court room. Immediately, both sides started pointing fingers at the other guys.
Many individual players vented their frustration on their Twitter accounts, including Brees, who wrote, "They refuse to give that information to us. They think we should just trust them. Would you?"
The league also released a statement, much more lengthy and accusatory. Here it is, in its entirety:
"The fastest way to a fair agreement is for both the union and the clubs to continue the mediation process. Unfortunately, the players’ union has notified our office that at 4pm ET it had “decertified” and is walking away from mediation and collective bargaining, presumably to initiate the antitrust litigation it has been threatening to file. In an effort to get a fair agreement now, the clubs offered a deal that would have had no adverse financial impact upon veteran players in the early years and would meet the players’ financial demands in the latter years.
The union left a very good deal on the table. It included an offer to narrow the player compensation gap that existed in the negotiations by splitting the difference; guarantee reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7; ensure no compensation reduction for veterans; implement new year-round health and safety rules; retain the current 16-4 season format for at least two years with any subsequent changes subject to the approval of the league and union; and establish a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years).
The union was offered financial disclosure of audited league and club profitability information that is not even shared with the NFL clubs.
The expanded health and safety rules would include a reduction in offseason programs of five weeks (from 14 to nine) and of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) from 14 to 10; significant reductions in the amount of contact in practices; and other changes.
At a time when thousands of employees are fighting for their collective bargaining rights, this union has chosen to abandon collective bargaining in favor of a sham ‘decertification’ and antitrust litigation. This litigation maneuver is built on the indisputably false premise that the NFLPA has stopped being a union and will merely delay the process of reaching an agreement.
The NFL clubs remain committed to collective bargaining and the federal mediation process until an agreement is reached. The NFL calls on the union to return to negotiations immediately. NFL players, clubs, and fans want an agreement. The only place it can be reached is at the bargaining table."
Later Friday night, NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith released his own statement:
"This has been a long and arduous process. Many of our players are tired. I am tired. We have worked hard as a player leadership for two years to prevent this moment.
To the fans, we are sorry it came to this today. You deserve better. I am truly sorry. The players are sorry. Our players – YOUR players – left everything they had at the table. I have asked them for two years to commit themselves to this process. I have asked them as businessmen in the business of football to commit to leading their teammates through this process. I have asked them to leave their families, be at every meeting, review every document and engage in every part of negotiations. They exceeded every expectation. They should be proud and hold their heads high for their leadership.
I want to thank all of you that have supported our players from the beginning, who took the time to understand the issues related to the business of our game and will remain a part of our family. These teams are your teams from Steeler nation to the 12th man in Seattle.
As businessmen, we asked the owners two years ago to consider two basic tenets to getting a fair deal: financial transparency and the health and safety of our players. Financial transparency would help us reach a compromise. Even until the last moment, we were rebutted. And as for health and safety, that's a non-negotiable issue. To our players, I will not ever yield on this point. There is no price tag for your arms, legs, backs, necks, shoulders and brains.
To our forefathers: Radovich, White, Mackey, McNeil, Duerson and Powell; I want you to know that the torch has been passed to Brady, Brees, Manning, Vrabel, Umenyiora, Leber, Mankins, Robison, Jackson, and a brave young Aggie prospect named Von Miller. The measure of our Association is the men and their families who fight for the only thing they can bestow to each other: a better game, a safer game, and a recognition from those who own for common respect.
This is the only inheritance we can provide to the men who play, their families and those who have served before and after us."
Interestingly, the NFL Draft is still scheduled to go on next month. If any games are missed, fans with tickets will be refunded.