The NFL Lockout has ended. It looks like a good deal was signed that benefits everybody.
Before getting to the nuts and bolts of the deal itself, political notes are in order. Those who think that the the deal will spur politicians to get a debt ceiling deal done that will have long term benefits for America are dreaming. Forget the size of the numbers involved. That is irrelevant. There are three reasons the politicians are failing where the NFL succeeded.
1) In the NFL, everybody negotiated in good faith toward a common goal. Playing football makes all parties involved wealthy. Not playing football depletes the players immediately and the owners at some point. The bonds of trust were there between the main players and owners. Each side had bad actors, but the hug between Colts Center Jeff Saturday and Patriots Owner Robert Kraft will not be forgotten soon. Both sides saw continuation as success as stoppage as failure.
Commissioner Roger Goodell desperately wanted to be seen as a neutral, honest broker. For the most part, he succeeded. The nature of his job makes him beholden to the owners because they can fire him. Yet he was sensitive to concerns and very much tried to steer the ship properly. Enough people trusted him, and the deal got done.
Politics does not have this because there is zero trust between the White House and political opponents do not trust each other. President Obama demonizes those who disagree with him as evil. Mr. Obama is not an honest broker. In fact, he is not a broker at all, but a disengaged individual who may or may not care if a deal get done. Mr. Obama claims that the other side is inflexible when the truth is that his public words of compromise are meant to imply that everyone should shut up and agree with him.
If a deal does not get done, Mr. Obama can just blame other people.
In football there are fans. In politics there are voters. Fans have no power. They cannot fire anyone. Voters can fire politicians. Mr. Obama knows that if his job can be secure by getting others fired, stalemate and breakdown is more beneficial than agreement and harmony. He has a segment of the population with him and a segment against him no matter what. The swing vote is shrinking, and if he can convince them that he is noble and his critics are evil, he can parlay a breakdown into electoral success again. The incentive to strike a deal is not there.
The football fans all wanted a deal, with many not caring about the end result. Political voters care passionately about the details, rendering some to prefer no deal to a bad one.
2) In the NFL, everybody is flush with cash. The league was arguing over how much to divvy up to which groups. This is a fantastic problem to have. There are no have nots in the current NFL, only those who have less. Everybody is getting more money, so it is easier to have everybody win.
Politically, America is broke. It is time for austerity. The fights are not over who to give more but how to give everybody less. Some on the left want everybody to keep getting more until the system collapses. Many on the right want painful austerity measures to save the current financial system. This leads to arguments over who should face the cuts.
3) In politics, the fight is over capitalism versus socialism. These are diametrically opposed philosophies. President Obama wants to steal from productive job creators and give more to his political base. That is the path to socialism. Conservatives would rather help the job creators. The battle of unbridled freedom and liberty and forced equality may never be resolved. The two views cannot coexist.
In football, everybody is a socialist. Football is the ultimate collective. Former Owner Art Modell once called the owners “32 Republicans who vote socialist.” Socialism is a failure in politics, but it is vital to the success of professional sports. Forced equality works. What some deride as “parity” is actually “competitive balance.”
In life, which related to politics, people are inherently unequal. Yet in the Kibbutz known as the National Football League, sharing is vital to survival. The Draft order, the hard salary cap, revenue sharing, and league wide television deal are all collective wins for all the parties involved. When all the parties are interdependent and interlocking pieces of the same puzzle, getting a deal done is essential.
The politicians will most likely continue to screw everything up, especially President Obama. I just thank the heavens that he has nothing to do with the NFL. More importantly, thank heavens the NFL deal got done.
The details of the deal have been discussed ad nauseum, but here are some points.
1) The players used to get close to 60% of revenues. Now they get 50%. This would seem like a pay cut but it is not. Of the 9 billion in revenue, the NFL used to get 1 billion right off the top for administrative expenses. That billion dollar haircut is gone. So the players get a smaller percentage, but of a larger overall number. It comes out to about the same money.
2) The deal has no opt out clause for either side . It is an iron clad 10 year deal. This ensures labor peace for a decade.
3) The season stays for now at 16 games. Hopefully the owners will leave this alone, but that is asking a lot.
4) Players who were eligible for medical care up to 5 years after they retire now have medical benefits for life. In a game as violent as football, this is a big deal.
5) Rookie salaries have been cut by about half. This was the least contentious part of the negotiations, because even players resented seeing rookies get $50 million bonuses without playing a down.
6) Unrestricted free agency, originally at between 3 and 6 years, is now 4 years.
There will always be lingering issues. The NFL Conduct Policy gives broad powers to the Commissioner. While Mr. Goodell has been tough but fair, the potential for abuse is still there in the future. Also, let’s see if the league truly cares about its retired players and makes sure that their pensions are sufficient.
The one sadness in all of this from a football standpoint was the cancellation of the 2011 NFL Hall of Fame Game. The induction ceremonies will go on as scheduled, but without the game itself. Each team will still play all of their preseason games, but the loss of that one game is still a shame.
On a more human level, the entire NFL family and football fans everywhere offer condolences to Robert Kraft. His wife Myra died a couple of days before the deal was done from cancer. She was only 68. She was a Jewish woman active in her community and a rock of support for her husband. She was active in combating violence against women. The one time she got involved in football matters was to get the team to remove a draft pick upon learning about his history of violence against women.
In his most painful moments, Mr. Kraft focused on work. As Jeff Saturday said, “without him this deal does not get done. He saved the game of football.”
Whether that is overstated does not take away from the class and courage of Mr. Kraft. May Mrs. Kraft be enjoying a peaceful life in heaven away from the physical pain of her final days.
After all, whether in politics, sports, or life itself, the goal is to leave things better than when we found it.
The NFL succeeded. NFL 2011 is soon upon us in its entirety.
Let’s play some football.