Tuesday, September 25, 2012

NFL Zebras Not the Only Animals in Owners' Sights

Hey, d'ja see the Packers-Seahawks game last night?  Cool how it ended, huh?

The NFL replacement officials are in way over their heads - so far that the integrity of the entire league is in question.  Evidence of their incompetence arises in every quarter, if not in every set of downs.  But, it's time to refocus: it's their employer, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who planned the current lockout of the regular referees, in collaboration with certain activist owners; it's Goodell who hired the replacement refs, put them on the football field, gave them a whistle, and let them loose with insufficient training and experience; and it's Goodell and this handful of owners who are the only remaining parties to insist that nothing is wrong with the status quo.

There's obviously more to the NFL owners' posture in the current lockout of the regular referees than just the cost savings at stake, a relative pittance; else the league would have ended the lockout unilaterally after Week 1.  That they haven't suggests the following motivations:

(1) PRECEDENT: Not only does a hard-line posture toward the regular referees demonstrate the owners' resolve in the instant dispute; in their minds, it likely also sets a precedent for future contract negotiations with the Players' Association, a much bigger economic opportunity.  It also signals a strategic rigidity with respect to labor unions and salaried workforces in general, both in the owners' non-NFL businesses and in American society at-large.  The message: Negotiation itself is off the table.
(2) IDEOLOGY: The current generation of NFL owners came of age when President Ronald Reagan broke the Professional Air Traffic Controllers' Organization (PATCO) by hiring and training replacements.  As Paul F. Campos wrote today at Salon.com, appropriating the contemptuous jargon of ownership-class lionizer Ayn Rand and referencing her avid adherent: "Paul Ryan's beloved Packers were robbed last night -- because the owners are putting the 'moochers' in their place."

(3) PEER PRESSURE: Rigidity in the face of common sense allows the owners to display their boss-class status to and gain the affirmative, personal approval of their fellow sports team owners and business peers, whom they run into at Board meetings, Chamber of Commerce meetings, and country clubs and are, in fact, the only constituencies who actually matter to them.

(4) COMBATIVENESS: The hardened, combative societal attitudes evidenced first in America's so-called culture wars, then in its "red state-blue state" political divide now pervade all walks of life, including the business of sports.  An entire generation has grown up with categorical attitudes that are uninformed by critical thinking.

(5) LOMBARDI-ISM: (I could get exiled from Wisconsin for this.)  Former Packers coach and NFL demigod Vince Lombardi's famous line,"Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing [that matters]!" has been inflated to the status of received wisdom throughout American society.  It is, in fact, a sophomoric locker-room slogan, not an organizing principle for the modern world.

(6) VANITY: The owners continue, stubbornly and conceitedly, to deny a gross, strategic error that they have committed in public, as doing so would be an admission of their own fallibility; thereby compounding the problem.

(7) COLLUSION: The consistent pattern of the NFL, NBA, and NHL using nearly identical, hard-line labor tactics suggests that their executives are motivated by and doing the sector-wide bidding for the money-center banks, including Bank of America and Citibank, that serve the sports, media, and entertainment industries.  These financial players are often equity investors as well as the principal lenders to ownership groups.  Their influence in the sports world is an underreported story; whether they are also instigators in the recent spate of lockouts is a matter of speculation.

What troubles me most is that this infestation of hostile tactics toward players and officials could spread further.  In particular, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig's vaunted two-decade stretch of labor peace with the Baseball Players' Association, with no strike or lockout since the World Series washout of 1994, is surely threatened unless he and his eventual successor can wrangle MLB owners into a collective posture that does not rely principally upon the threat of work stoppages to achieve economic ends.

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UPDATE: After a 31-hour negotiating session following the Green Bay-Seattle game, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association agreed on the terms of a new, eight-year contract.

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