I returned to Chicago Tuesday afternoon after several days in Marco Island, Florida at the annual National Football League Player's Association meeting. I didn't know what to expect this year. We decertified as a union just weeks ago, surrendering our right to collectively bargain, in hopes that turning to litigation was our best, last option to ensure that there is still football next year.
I have attended quite a few of these meetings over the years. Typically meetings started at 7:00 a.m. and ran through, late into the afternoon and evening, well over schedule. Players were often tuned out, logged in to their favorite websites, anxious to get out to the pool or beach, fed up with the tedium of meeting after meeting of meticulous detail that, sadly, could go in one ear and out the other. I was equally guilty; I could usually be found with my laptop tracking whatever NCAA tournament game I was most interested in. Sadly, that usually meant another early round upset for my perennial 5-seed Vanderbilt Commodores.
This year was different. Players were focused. Zeroed in. Engaged on the task at hand. Questions were flying, and every facet of our plan to get back on the football field was broken down in detail. The strangest part was --- our meetings were done by 1:00 p.m. or 2:00 p.m. everyday. No, we were not suddenly more efficient. Players were not sprinting out the meeting room door to the beach or golf course. There is just only so much to do right now. Players, like fans, can do little more than wait at this point.
The next big date is April 6th, when the first hearing takes place in our case against ownership to enjoin the lockout. If we win, football is back. Yes, there will be appeals, and details of exactly what rules under which the game should operate will need to be ironed out. I don't know how to explain it in any simpler terms. The players want to play football. We are doing everything we can to ensure that no games are missed in 2011.
The brick wall negotiating strategy employed by ownership led us to where we sit today. Regardless of all the details and finger-pointing that has taken place immediately before and after the mediation sessions, the simple truth is this: players want to play, but unless the courts step in and help, we are not allowed perform our jobs.
Let's be clear: this was not a two week negotiation. Conversations about how to find a fair solution to the labor issues facing the league began in May 2008. Every carefully executed step by ownership has had one goal in mind: lockout the players and break the union. Well, they broke the union. Player have surrendered their rights as a collective bargaining unit to challenge the monopoly powers of the NFL.
So I return to Chicago in no better mood than I went down to our meeting. By no means would I say any part of our time in Marco went poorly. I just think players are frustrated. They're frustrated that 32 groups of players are scrambling to find ways to mobilize with their teammates, decide about which gyms to work out in during the off season and choose on which fields to prepare for next season. They're frustrated that the fate of that season now rests in the hands of various judges tiered throughout courtrooms across America, frustrated that we didn't even have enough structure around the 2011 league year to keep player reps in meetings all afternoon, frustrated, most of all, that all we can do is wait.