Three weeks ago, as Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith broke bread in a midtown Manhattan restaurant, the leaders of the NFL’s warring labor factions projected a sense of mutual optimism. During a negotiation session earlier that day at a Long Island hotel, Smith and player representatives had suggested a new, “all-revenue” model for splitting up the billions of dollars generated annually by America’s most profitable professional sports league, and Goodell and the owners across the table seemed to embrace the idea enthusiastically.
Late Thursday afternoon, after another frustrating interchange between the two negotiating teams at a Minneapolis-area law firm that ultimately lasted past midnight, it was clear that labor peace – and an end to the lockout imposed by the owners on March 12 – won’t be achieved anywhere close to as seamlessly as numerous reports in recent weeks have suggested. Not only is the very definition of total revenue being debated, but each side also believes the other has tried to manipulate the negotiation process in its favor, and any semblance of trust has all but disappeared.
A little more than two months before the scheduled start of the 2011 regular season, the players and owners are still fighting over money, and quarreling over who deserves the brunt of the blame. One side is speaking Russian, the other Japanese, and that sense of mutual optimism once enjoyed by the NFL commissioner and NFL Players Association executive director has been lost in translation.
“It’s just bizarre right now,” one source on the players’ side said Thursday. “Two weeks ago, I was optimistic. I didn’t realize that we weren’t even close to close. It’s disheartening.”