Kudos to the New York Times for trying to peddle this poor helpless Roger Goodellspin. This is the NFL Commissioner who has lined up a $10 million ANNUAL pay increase at a time when the annual gap between the NFL and its referees is around $3.2 million. He could literally pay for the entire gap out of his pay raise and have nearly $7 million a year left over. I don’t dispute the idea that the tight-fisted owners have made the call to lock out the refs, but don’t tell me Goodell has no agency here.
Those close to Goodell say he is concerned about the mistakes being made game after game. While Goodell is the most powerful commissioner in American sports, he is ultimately answerable to the owners of 32 teams. And as much as Monday’s game would seem to have put a spotlight on the need for a settlement — the sides negotiated on Tuesday, as they had for the past several days — it might actually have complicated matters for Goodell, who is personally involved in the talks.
Even some owners acknowledge that Goodell is in the difficult position of balancing the interests of his constituents. The league that Goodell came up in, working for the commissioners Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue and many owners who had been in place well before the league boomed, is now populated by a disparate group of businessmen. Some of them have had their teams in their families for generations. Others are self-made successes in other fields. Many of them, regardless of background, are used to taking tough positions and not capitulating. They are very used to getting what they want, and they do not like being pushed around.
“Pushed around” is pretty rich. The owners locked out the refs, not the other way around. And whether Goodell is “concerned” or not, he’s the one pushing the terrible spin that the NFL wants to have more flexibility to fire bad officials in the new contract. Um, how about the product being put on the field this and every week? Are they not legitimately “bad” officials that the league office has been covering for, including on the unforgivable Hail Mary call in the Packers-Seahawks game?
Whatever the NFL’s strategy, they now find themselves in a situation where both Presidential candidates have now weighed in on the same side, for perhaps the first time in the entire campaign, both asking for the professional referees to get back to work.
In a memo from the AFL-CIO, Alison Omens points out that the key to the entire debacle, what broadens it and contextualizes it, comes from the knowledge that unions provide needed training to their workers:
What hasn’t gotten much attention is this lockout is symbolic of a much bigger issue: Training for a high performing workforce matters. But individual employers rarely have the incentive to invest in training—it’s hard to realize the return. That’s why the role of unions is so important: They work to make sure employees have the training and standards to realize their potential as committed workers, and they can do that on a large-scale, cost-efficient basis.
Regular referees are reliable because they’re highly trained professionals – a necessity to be a union referee. They’re a high-profile example of thousands of other professions whose work we rely on every day to get the job done and who are trained by their union. The labor movement is the largest workforce trainer of adults outside the U.S. military.
Omens offers examples like the union workers who rebuilt the World Trade Center, landed that plane in the Hudson River, and even constructed Mitt Romney’s Salt Lake City Olympics. We’re seeing the value of a well-trained workforce in real time, with documented proof of the consequences of a workforce that lacks such training.
NFL Players Association Director DeMaurice Smith told players in a memo yesterday that, while the players are not crossing a picket line because there is no strike, but a lockout, “We are actively reviewing any and all possible actions to protect you.” This goes on another couple weeks and we could see civil disobedience out there.
Photo by San Diego Shooter under Creative Commons license