Can the lockout still be a “win-win” for both sides through the very painful process of agreeing to measures that “hurt” both sides? Many call this pain the absolute essence of any good negotiation.
Until now, the lockout has been only a legal battle. And lawyers are paid and conditioned to work through the precedent of previous law and interpretation. They look at leverage through the prism of a judge, not their own wisdom to swallow the bitter pill of compromise to preserve a large share of a still growing pie. As DeMaurice Smith matures into his highly public position, essentially presiding over 1600 player CEO’s with varying degrees of entitlement issues, his challenge is to go beyond the legalistic into the spirit that the finest leaders seize.
This appetizing ‘pie’ is not for Weight Watchers: this is not your normal blueberry pie. This is one of the few ‘pies’ that have been growing enormously for 15 years because of a great game, shared revenue, salary cap and labor peace, in spite of raising ticket prices well out of the reach of a so-called ‘normal’ family of four.
When I was a guest on ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel the first night of the 1987 Strike, our 1987 pie was perhaps nine percent of today’s bonanza for players. Not even counting the 38 percent of the pie the owners receive each year, the average NFL team has grown 500 percent in value, from $200 million to $1 billion since 1996. The players have witnessed a 650 percent increase in salaries, and have enhanced their post career benefits to the tune of $1.1 billion (to the equally large loss in the overall pension fund for former player), including excellent education, health, annuity, 401k and other benefits.
The legal smokescreen is an ownership that is more afraid of revealing their own team’s revenue streams to their “brother” NFL teams, than to the NFL Players Association. Were the NFL to be fully transparent, and if the players temporary ‘non-Association’ were to compromise even a few percentage points on what still promises to be a robustly growing “pie”, we could be talking about draft picks, trades and old rivalries, and a very promising season. But leadership that is only legally visionary and not fully using its moral compass will lead to further impasse and a damaged NFL season, if not game itself.
Thus far, the owners blindly see only a television contract doubling to $14 billion in 2014. They employ the same old Joseph Stalin dictatorial style. However, if DeMaurice Smith can wear the hat that sees history beyond the last two years of his rather legalistic term in office, he will take credit for huge increases in salaries, without burning the pie beyond recognition. If Roger Goodell can remember his father’s greatest accomplishment as Senator was standing up to his own Republican party, perhaps he can swallow the kind of bitter pill that will make the 2011 NFL Season taste sweet once again.
Nick Lowery is a former NFL kicker who played for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1980-93 during his 19-year career. When he retired in 1996, Nick ranked first in field goal percentage and total field goals in NFL history. In 2009 the three-time Pro Bowl selection was inducted into the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame.
Nick grew up in Washington, D.C. and attended St. Albans School. He now helps run the Nick Lowery Youth Foundation and is a motivational speaker.