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Hillenmeyer: Cutting Through the NFL Spin

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Former player Hunter Hillenmeyer served as a player representative for the Chicago Bears. He joined Grizzly Detail last week to provide his unique perspective on the NFL work stoppage and the fall out of the failed negotiations.

    In the wake of the NFL Lockout and the lawsuit that followed, there has been a tremendous amount of finger pointing and misinformation about who exactly said and did what during the mediation sessions leading up to the lockout. 

    As a former player representative and an active member of the NFLPA, I was able to attend a few of the sessions, and even I have a hard time making sense of all the spin. If knowing what to believe is tricky for me, I know it must be infuriating to the average fan.  Toward that end, I am going to explain what I know to be true by pointing to the opposite.  For that, let me bring in Chicago Tribune writer David Haugh.

    Haugh wrote a column on March 13, in which he laid a large portion of responsibility for the lockout at the feet of NFLPA executive Demaurice Smith. He said Smith should have managed the situation better and not gone after the big play history making arguments that led to the work stoppage.

    First, let me say this: I like Haugh. He's never said anything mean about me that wasn't mostly true, and I think he tries to base his opinions in what he actually sees, as opposed to some writers just try to have an opinion that is controversial enough to get noticed and sell newspapers.  The article he wrote last Sunday hammering our leader and our membership, however, gave me serious pause.
     
    What follows is a direct reaction to points in his article where I offer a dose of reality not masked in NFL spin-doctorism.

    First, the specifics of the "proposal" Haugh claims the players walked away from:

    1.) Maintaining a 16-game schedule through 2012: Haugh is basically correct. The owners agreed to wait one year before forcing us to move to 18 games.

    2.) Implementing a rookie wage scale and funneling savings to veterans and retired players:  This was the owners' issue in the first place. They wanted to lower their risk when it comes to investing millions untested rookies. But the players made it clear that directing this money to veterans and former players was the only way to get a deal done.  Rookie contract lengths and strict limitations on renegotiating windows made their proposal much less favorable than the first few details would make it seem.

    3.) Cutting the number of offseason workouts and organized team activities: Again, not sure why I am supposed to applaud this.  Players are ravaged by injuries during the season. The Super Bowl Champion Packers had 16 players finish the season on injured reserve. I suffered a concussion. So owners finally felt guilty enough about what this game does to our bodies to give us a little rest in the offseason ... thanks ... I guess.

    The biggest issue on the bargaining table, the size of the pie, is where Haugh is clearly wrong. He says owners wanted "vowed to disclose limited audited profitability information and reduce the money owners should be given off the top of league revenues from $1 billion to $325 million."

    I don't know how he came up with this number of $325 million. Let me give you the low down: each side talks money in terms of "pegging the cap,"  basically they want to figure out what the total money per team should be, and then back out a total league-wide number from that. 

    To say we "split the difference" is very misleading because the players had already compromised multiple times.  I promise, if we had asked for 90% of every dollar to start, the players would be happy to split the difference to 70% at the last minute. My point is this; the ludicrous starting point proposed by the owners should not obligate us to meeting in the middle on a terrible deal.

    Their proposal "split the difference" between the number they have stuck to for two years and our last best offer, on a per team, per year basis.  The contract length was 10 years with minimal inflation-based growth in the cap. Consider that in light of the fact that TV revenues alone are expecting to double to more than $8 billion per year by the middle of this decade. It's almost as if the NFL put all their energy into creating as bad a proposal as they could possibly come up with that would sound good to outsiders. 

    I would ask Haugh who is compromising now.

    Haugh goes on to explain that we, the players, are employees, not partners. That may be true, but find me another $9 billion a year business where its employees have no ownership in the value they create. I did some digging on this to find a good example. The most profitable airline company ever, Southwest Airlines, has somewhere around 15% employee ownership. I looked into it a bit further, and its interesting what President Emeritus of Southwest, Colleen Barrett, had to say about employees as partners.

    "Everything is negotiated. We give employees the opportunity to criticize and question us. Southwest doesn't often need to conduct surveys or hire consultants to determine what we are doing wrong or well. The employees tell us face-to-face year-round. We have open books, we're transparent and we're all-inclusive in telling employees what's happening.

    Open books ... transparency; all things we the players have been made to feel unreasonable for seeking.  So David, when you accuse the players of being led off a cliff by a cavalier leader, please get your facts straight.  Our decision to decertify was a strategy of last resort, not a premeditated, high-risk game of chicken.  I wish I could say the same for owners.  But here we sit, LOCKED OUT.

    The same plan the owners have had for two years is now in effect.  No matter how much noise the NFL created to distract fans from the truth, ownership has closed its doors for business.  We, the players, are ready to return to work.  If goal is to figure out at whom to point the finger, look at the guys with the chains on the front door.