NFL players' union braces for a 2011 lockout

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 21, 2010; D03

Kevin Mawae, the Tennessee Titans center who is the president of the NFL Players Association, told a congressional subcommittee during a hearing Wednesday on Capitol Hill that players expect to be locked out by team owners in 2011.

"We are fully anticipating a lockout and are educating all 1,900 of our players. . . . We are anticipating that because right at this moment all indications are that way," Mawae told the House subcommittee on courts and competition policy.

The labor deal between the owners and the players' union expires after the 2010 season.

Gary Gertzog, a senior vice president for the NFL, told the subcommittee: "We think we'll reach an agreement [with the players]. It's just a matter of when."

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) said during the hearing that "we need to monitor this lockout potential very closely. . . . I certainly hope we'll have a steady watch of this."

Mawae said after the hearing that he doesn't think a lockout is unavoidable.

"What I do think is that there's no sense in us sitting here painting a rosy picture about what's going on in the negations," Mawae said. "That would be an injustice to the players. We hope there isn't a lockout. But if there is one, the players are going to be prepared for it."

Mawae objected to public comments by New York Giants co-owner John Mara that the union has not responded in a meaningful way to a proposal by the owners.

"We've responded in meaningful ways," Mawae said. "I guess the same could be said of them. When they ask us for a 20 percent rollback of salaries, they haven't demonstrated to us the need for a 20 percent rollback."

Mawae told the subcommittee that the NFL is seeking to unfairly increase its economic power through an antitrust case, American Needle vs. the NFL, that is before the Supreme Court.

Mawae said that a ruling by the Supreme Court in favor of the NFL in the case potentially could do great harm to the relationship between the league and the players' union and would be a disservice to the sport's fans by increasing the chances of a lockout.

"We have fought so hard for labor peace," Mawae told the subcommittee. "We are concerned if the NFL does indeed get what they want from the American Needle case that we could lose much of what we fought for."

But Gertzog told the subcommittee that the case before the Supreme Court is about only licensing and merchandise issues, and nothing more.

"This case is not about any other aspect of our business," Gertzog said. "It is not about our labor relations."

The Supreme Court case involves one of the league's former merchandise makers, American Needle, that sued the league. NFL officials repeatedly have said the antitrust issues involved in the case have nothing to do with the league's relationship with the players' union and the two sides' current set of labor negotiations.

But union officials and players have said they believe the outcome of the case could have a significant impact on that relationship and the current labor talks. They're fearful that the resolution of the case could shield the owners from a potential antitrust lawsuit by the players, and decrease the union's negotiating leverage.

Gertzog was asked during questioning by subcommittee members what implications the case could have on the sport's labor relations, and said: "Absolutely none."

Gertzog also said: "Those negotiations are guided by the labor laws, not the antitrust laws."

The NFL has partial protection from antitrust laws from Congress.

Mara told the New York Times that the owners and the union are making no progress in their ongoing negotiations.

"I don't think we're making any progress," Mara told the Times. "We made a proposal in early November. I don't think we've received a meaningful counterproposal. The point that we try to make to them is that the costs and risks are much greater than they ever have been. Especially in this economy. I don't think there has been enough of a recognition on their part of that concept."

Mara told the Times he is resigned to the 2010 season being played without a salary cap, but he remains hopeful a deal could be struck before a possible lockout.

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