Monday, March 14, 2011

Bad Writing

As more facts regarding the negotiations come to light, the "NFL Players Association overreach" position should become significantly less tenable.

Part of the reason why this position was advocated by some has to reflect an awareness by the NFL at the laziness of many sportswriters. The NFL's summary to fans of the breakdown in negotiations was remarkably pejorative for something so light on substance:

Dear NFL Fan,

When I wrote to you last on behalf of the NFL, we promised you that we would work tirelessly to find a collectively bargained solution to our differences with the players' union. Subsequent to that letter to you, we agreed that the fastest way to a fair agreement was for everyone to work together through a mediation process. For the last three weeks I have personally attended every session of mediation, which is a process our clubs sincerely believe in.

Unfortunately, I have to tell you that earlier today the players' union walked away from mediation and collective bargaining and has initiated litigation against the clubs. In an effort to get a fair agreement now, our clubs offered a deal today that was, among other things, designed to have no adverse financial impact on veteran players in the early years, and would have met the players’ financial demands in the latter years of the agreement.

The proposal we made included an offer to narrow the player compensation gap that existed in the negotiations by splitting the difference; guarantee a reallocation of savings from first-round rookies to veterans and retirees without negatively affecting compensation for rounds 2-7; no compensation reduction for veterans; implement new year-round health and safety rules; retain the current 16-4 season format for at least two years with any subsequent changes subject to the approval of the league and union; and establish a new legacy fund for retired players ($82 million contributed by the owners over the next two years).

It was a deal that offered compromise, and would have ensured the well-being of our players and guaranteed the long-term future for the fans of the great game we all love so much. It was a deal where everyone would prosper.

We remain committed to collective bargaining and the federal mediation process until an agreement is reached, and call on the union to return to negotiations immediately. NFL players, clubs, and fans want an agreement. The only place it can be reached is at the bargaining table.

While we are disappointed with the union's actions, we remain steadfastly committed to reaching an agreement that serves the best interest of NFL players, clubs and fans, and thank you for your continued support of our League. First and foremost it is your passion for the game that drives us all, and we will not lose sight of this as we continue to work for a deal that works for everyone.

Roger Goodell
The NFL's version was so rosy that the truly gullible had few places to go to explain why the NFLPA would walk away so noisily from something so good. The easiest, of course, is to make the narrative personality-based: DeMaurice Smith's (an accomplished successful DC attorney) ego is too big ... the players are simply vindictive and were punishing the NFL Owners for their approach.

All of this is horse manure. Arguments that negotiations of this magnitude came down to the personalities of those sitting on the players' side of the table are pathetically contrived. By definition, the players' representatives are accountable to hundreds of their fellow employees with everyone's livelihood on the line.

Any self-respecting journalist would have to be incredulous about the declaration that the league's owners had offered to split the difference in the compensation gap between the two sides. And, it seems that this characterization was intentionally misleading:

So the league didn’t really offer to “split the difference.” The league went to the midpoint of the $20 million gap, cutting the total difference from $640 million per year to $320 million. But with no offer to provide the players with any portion of the revenue that exceeds the projected growth, the offer was something closer to the league’s prior position than the players’ prior proposal.

Because the financial structure is complicated, the details that will come to light will escape a substantial portion of fans offering their opinions on the labor dispute. But there is no excuse for a reporter/sports writer not understanding what just went down. Moreover, the intentional deception inherent in the NFL's characterization should be underscored by reporters' writing on the subject.

Realistically, however, it would be foolish to anticipate any change in approach by those teeing off on the players. Sports writing is not a profession where accuracy or completeness is particularly prized or valued. Much better to have an opinion and a strident one at that.

Along the same lines, I was disappointed in Jason Reid's column for the Washington Post today commenting on ESPN's "Fab 5" documentary. Reid criticizes Rose for having once held the view that the only African-American players in Duke's basketball program were "Uncle Tom's" and implies that Rose appears to hold some vestige of that opinion. Reid relates a story of being derided with that term by Milton Bradley, a charge that obviously hurt the write.

I read the column before watching the documentary and was surprised by how much Reid's characterization seemed to distort Rose's discussion of Duke's program. Rose matter-of-factly concedes that his judgment was framed through jealousy of Grant Hill's good fortune compared to the disappointment he felt at his father's refusal to recognize him. Rather than being a judgment on the blackness or lack thereof of other African-Americans, Rose's description seems to be inherently personal and there is little evidence -- from the documentary -- that any of his teammates held similar views.

It seems totally unnecessary to attempt to ascribe a viewpoint to Jalen Rose -- particularly one that leads to a linkage to Milton Bradley -- given the historical setting of the Fab 5. That Michigan team was portrayed to America as the quintessence of African-American youth culture and Duke's basketball program was cast as its polar opposite. The Fab 5 were (so conventional wisdom went) brash, hip hopping ballers, who played a playground style of basketball. Duke, on the other hand, were cerebral, disciplined.

The division between racially true and "Uncle Tom" was successfully etched out by media coverage and popular perception. It poisoned the era and rendered irrelevant the question of whether Rose acquiesced to commonly-held views or not.

The more important thing would appear to be the fact that Rose has since come to grips with those views and why they were wrongly held. And that would make a far more interesting article.

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