Things have turned nasty in the dispute between NFL players and team owners. Although the NFL players association technically no longer exists after it was decertified last Friday and the owners locked the players out, the former union is urging top college players to boycott next month’s NFL draft in New York.
Why? To prevent the NFL from reaping the financial benefits of having future superstars like Cam Newton, Patrick Peterson, and Nick Fairley on stage at Radio City Music Hall shaking the hand of commissioner Roger Goodell on prime-time TV and posing for pictures wearing the cap and jersey of their future NFL teams, even though the owners won’t let the players work.
Without superstars on stage, the NFL draft would be as watchable as the trading of pork futures at the stock exchange. And you won’t see that in prime time. The former union is making plans to hold a separate event in New York for the top draft picks. But would any of the NFL’s TV partners (CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN) televise that event? Not likely. Remember, the networks were prepared to give the NFL $4 billion this year whether games were played or not until a federal judge ruled it illegal.
In the NFL, TV revenue is equally split among the 32 team owners. All other revenue is not. That’s the real reason for the lockout. Small-market owners like Jerry Richardson of Carolina and Wayne Weaver of Jacksonville don’t make nearly as much money as Jerry Jones of Dallas (a.k.a. “America’s Team”). Jones and other big-market owners are against sharing all revenue evenly. If you injected Jones with truth serum, he would surely be against sharing TV revenue equally because his Cowboys are far more popular than Richardson’s Panthers or Weaver’s Jaguars.
It’s no accident that Richardson was the first owner to speak at last week’s news conference after talks between players and owners broke down. He represents the small-market hawks that can’t get big-market eagles like Jones to compromise, so they hope to convince the public that the players are greedy.
The players are on the right side in this dispute. They want to maintain the status quo because NFL games attracted record TV ratings and the league generated $9 billion in revenue last year. Owners want players to take less money without proving a need for givebacks. Players would win big in the court of public opinion if the former union can prevent Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson—who is set to make $10 million in 2011 if games are played—from again comparing life in the NFL to slavery. You lose the moral high ground fast with dumb comments like that.
Cecil Harris is the author of three books, including Charging the Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters.
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