The rookies from the 2011 NFL draft are learning in a real and very personal way that the game of football is a business. It’s a business that, since they were asked to join, they have been locked out of, forced to remain on the sidelines and wait. So when NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith and NFL Commission Roger Goodell took the stage at the NFLPA sponsored “Business of Football: Rookie Edition” the message that football is a business was front and center.
“Obviously Roger and I have been working hard to get the deal done. We made the trip down here today because this is about the business of football,” Smith continued, “People would like to turn what we do into something personal. It’s not, and while we are in a bit of a donnybrook now and while we fight through things like we have for the past two years this is what we do. This is the business of football.”
“This isn’t about the two of us.” Goodell added, “He’s working hard to protect the needs of players and I’m working to protect the interests of the owners. This is tough for everyone but I can assure you that this is not personal and I can assure you that we are each doing what’s in the best interest of our respective constituents.”
“Every now and then you have two sides, the folks who are employees and the folks who are employers. There are issues that unite you and there are issues that divide you. At the end of the day the conclusion is that both sides have to work together,” Smith said.
“De referenced how hard we are all working together. There’s no question that you have a guy that is passionate about what you do and in representing you. I have great respect for this guy and you,” said Goodell. “There’s no question we have some fundamental challenges to getting this done. But we do recognize that if we are going to create a business model that meets the challenges for everybody, works for the players, works for the clubs, works for the fans of the game, then we are going to have to address these issues responsibly and we know we are better off working together.”
The two leaders took questions from the players, who had many, regarding if, when and how a 2011 NFL season might start.
Smith told the rookies, “Our goal is to start the games on time. Our goal is to have a training camp on time. Our goal is to hopefully get some time were we can have some off-season work. We are both committed to those three fundamental things, so if we are able to get something done in time, we have the ability to move heaven and earth and make sure that things happen in a way that doesn’t impact the season.”
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Goodell and Smith were on the same page. Goodell added, “Our objective here is to keep pressing on and get this done so we can have a season, a full season, and that includes some off season work. If we are successful in the next couple weeks there is still the opportunity to get some off season work and then into training camps.”
The lack of contact between the players and the coaches is something that Smith and Goodell realize is hurting everyone. Goodell noted, “It’s one of the reasons we feel an urgency to get this resolved. Everyday that goes by that you’re not in camp, not getting the instruction or the understanding of the playbook or what to expect, is a negative, not only for you as individuals in your careers but for the game, and I think that is one of the reasons we need to keep pressing through and get this done.”
While these two are pushing to come to the terms of an agreement, they both made it clear that they aren’t the decision makers in this dispute. Smith outlined the structure of his decision making team, “There is an executive committee of 11 players that I work for, their combined years in the NFL is 130 years. Every team has three representatives. Everything that goes on they know. They vote and they make decisions, they make the representations. I don’t have the kind of job where I am afforded the luxury of my ego making a decision. It just doesn’t work that way. My guess is that [Roger] has the same challenge on his end because we both work for a group of people.”
Goodell agreed and shared how the league will make its decision, “The reality is I have to get 24 votes of the 32 teams. So we recognize who we ultimately have to get approval of and we have to address those issues so we can get the support. Then we can get back and doing what we want to do and what you want to do” which we all know is play football.
The body language and words of both Smith and Goodell reflected a feeling of respect and commitment to working together. “Our relationship is in a different place than even a month ago when we cancelled the symposium. But that’s one of the reasons I’m here because I believe not only in our relationship but I also believe that this kind of thing is good for the players and the league,” Goodell said when asked about coming to the event.
Both men agreed that “getting it right” is important so that any agreement that is reached works both for today and well into the future. This display of camaraderie provides hope that the parties will be able to work together to end the lockout before the uncertain deadline that would preclude a full NFL season. That’s all part of the business of football.