First of all, thanks goes out to the NFL for putting the Jaguars on Monday Night Football. A nation of football fans got some extra sleep on a Monday night ...
Just got back from an NFL Players Association gathering at the Eagle Street Grille in St. Paul. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith was on hand for a rally as part of the union's tour of NFL cities. Smith, some former Vikings, local officials and business leaders were there to help garner support against what the union feels is the NFL owners' plans to lock out the players in March.
Smith met with Vikings players on Monday. The Vikings became the 15th or 16th team to vote to decertify the union, a strategic move that would allow the players to sue the league under antitrust laws in the result of a lockout.
Here's some of the highlights of Smith's Q&A with reporters.
Here is the highlight of Smith's opening comments, which were designed to hit home the fact a lockout will affect not only the players, but businesses and employees who depend on the league to stay in business:
"For every one of the labor organizations, you represent people who will lose when a lockout occurs. Whether it's the 150,000, 160,000 people who would work in our stadiums, they lose, they get locked out. Whether it's the members of law enforcement, fraternal order of police or also members of the AFL-CIO, they are locked out. For people who work in the hotels, motels, restaurant businesses, they will be locked out. Whether we are standing shoulder to shoulder with the folks from UNITE, whether we are standing shoulder to shoulder with the teamsters or whether we're standing shoulder to shoulder with the fans, I know one thing and our players now know one thing: A lockout of this game is a lockout of America."
Q: How serious is the possibility of a lockout?
A: "Until there is dry ink on a deal, we've told every one of our players that this lockout is going to occur. That hasn't changed. We learned last week that the league indicated that they would no longer pay for players' health insurance and their families' insurance in March. So from a seriousness standpoint, the players believe this lockout is going to occur."
Q: How do you get the sides together and solve the problems?
A: "My job isn't to get the sides together. My job is to understand why the league wants an 18 percent pay cut from the players. We said from the beginning that if team profits have been declining over the last five years, if any team is losing money, if half the teams have lost money, if half the teams are only making a dollar, the players are committed to a new collective bargaining agreement. [NFL attorney] Bob Batterman, the person who leads the owners' side, has told every player in the National Football League that profits are none of their business. So you're looking at a community here today, surrouned by fans and surrounded by people who love your Vikings, knowing that a city like St. Paul and Minneapolis, could lose $150 million in lost jobs and lost revenue. To me, that's what the critical informatiion is. So, to me, the more information that we exchange, the quicker that we can understand the true financial picture of the National Football League, to me that's the day we're closer to getting this deal done."
Q: What would you say to fans who don't care about the business side and just wants football to be played?
A: "Every fan in our country lives in a city that derives revenue from football. Every fan in our country lives in a city that's given NFL teams untold millions. Every fan in our country not only loves our game, but wants to see us keep playing football. So what fan in America wouldn't agree with if there's an economic problem with the collective bargaining agreement provide the economic information that justifies it. When I go out to Redskins games, like I was at Sunday, I get the same conversation from every fan, `Hey, D., if there's a problem with the CBA, why don't they just tell you and show you the facts.' Unfortunately, my only answer back to them is, `I don't know.'"
Q: What are your feelings about player safety and the number of dangerous hits that were made on Sunday?
A: "There hasn't been a day since I took this job 19 months ago where we haven't been extremely aggressive about player safety. We are going to look at this issue, along with the league. I am for anything that keeps our players safer. But at the same time, I don't look at everything in a simple microcosm. On one hand, we've had a number of hits. We'll look to see if any of those hits were in violation of the rule. But at the same time, I'm dealing with some players where some of them have children who need heart transplants. We have several players who have children who are on kidney dialysis. We will have over 100 players who will have children who are born in the March, April, May time frame. Right now, all of those players need health insurance. As soon as I leave here, we'll get back to work and figure out how we get health insurance coverage for our players in the longterm. There are a lot of issues of player health and safety. I'm interested in talking about all of them."
Q: What's your reaction to the fact the NFL didn't consult with the union before it announced that it will begin immediately suspending players who make flagrant dangerous hits in violation of the rules?
A: "I'm not sure that is the fact. I have a conversation with [NFL Commissioner] Roger [Goodell] just about every day. We'll continue to talk about it. I'm sure based upon my conversations with him that we will both address the issue in the right way. I talk to Roger every day. I talk to Roger virtually every day."
Q: You talk about the owners getting together a war chest in preparation for a strike ...
A: "They're not getting it together. They have it. There's a big difference."
Q: If that's perceived as an aggressive move on their part, how is voting to decertify not aggressive on your part?
A: "It's a reactive move on our part. The main difference between something that is aggressive or reactive is if someone brings a fight to you and you are scrambling to do everything you can to defend yourself, there isn't a sane person in America who is going to consider that a threat. When they hired the same guy who locked out hockey [Batterman] in 2007 to be a part of this negotiation strategy for the first time, that's aggressive. When all of the [TV] networks make decisions based upon an NFL request that they have $4 billion even if the games aren't played, that's aggressive. When you force every assistant coach to renegotiate their contract to envision a lockout, that's aggressive. When the players say that if we get to March and you are going to force us into a lockout and we're going to consider our legal options, that's not aggressive. That's simply reacting in a way to defend yourself."
Q: A question about player suspensions led to Smith talking about the dangerous hits over the weekend.
A: "With all due respect, the hits over the weekend has gotten more press coverage than the fact that 5,000, 6,000 family members in the National Football League will lose their health insurance in March."
Q: Does Brett Favre get any advice or counsel from the union when he meets with the NFL security today?
A: "When we meet and talk with players, I don't intend to play it out in the press. We represent every player, so our issue is to ensure that the process is fair, and we do everything to ensure that process is fair."
Q: About the union's stance that a lockout affects more than the players.
A: "As we stand right now, every state and local government from a team city stands to lose at least $150 million in lost jobs and lost revenues if the National Football League unilaterally decides to shut down this game. I think there is probably no greater time in the history of our country that we should be talking about the economic impact of a business shutting down at a time when you all know that every one of these teams, every one of these franchises have received tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in support from state and local governments. Taking that money from state and local governments and then shutting down and locking out America, I think is not only wrong, it's immoral."