I am not sure what most people’s opinion is about the NFL labor situation, but I find it immensely fascinating. So many twists and turns, it makes your head spin. Just this week, the lockout was deemed illegal, then it was back on. Players were allowed back at team facilities, but all they could do was sit in the lounge. The coaches and training staff were hiding out. Workout areas were closed. It’s like a real life soap opera, and the drama is still building.
As a brief primer for those who don’t know what is going on, I will summarize in a brief paragraph. A few years ago, when the most recent collective bargaining agreement was made between the players and the owners, almost immediately afterwards there were some owners who felt that they gave up too much (money, benefits, rights, but mostly money) to the players. Soon after they decided that they were going to opt out of the agreement early (which happened over a year ago) and “lock the players out” to force them to give some of that money back in the next agreement. The NFL has about $9 billion in revenue and this is all fighting about how to split it up. The are some smaller issues (like adding 2 games to the schedule, better medical benefits and a rookie wage scale) but those are mostly bargaining chips in the fight for the $9 billion.
I had never really thought about being a lawyer (although I did dabble in a mock trial or two in high school) until this came up. For the most part, I had only thought about lawyers as either being prosecutors or defenders, neither of which seemed like they would be a good fit for me. (Ironically, I still dream of the day that I can be on a jury.) One of the best classes that I took in college was a class about History of Constitutional Law, where we delved into the history of the Supreme Court and how many of its decisions shaped what our country looks like today. It was exhilarating. To me, is seemed like a big puzzle. There is a question/problem in front of you and you need to dive head long into the history of previous cases to find the piece(s) to complete the picture in your favor. And there is nothing I love more than puzzles.
With all of the ups and downs and legal wranglings, I have found myself latching on to every piece of analysis and insight into these cases. How it is unbelievable that the NFL actually lost a case before the Supreme Court 9-0 (with their ideologic schism, you can’t get the justices to unanimously agree on where to go to dinner, let alone a legal case). How no one had ever seen a judge give a 89 page opinion on a injuction case. How the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is pro-business, but is this really a good thing for the NFL? So many questions and nuances. Makes me wonder if I should have gone to law school all of those years ago and become a expert in Constitutional Law.
The one thing I don’t understand, is how things have gotten to this point. It sure seems like the NFL has been getting some bad legal advice, because they are acting like they are in the right in this situation, but it sure seems like all of the odds (and more importantly, laws) are stacked against them. Just on the face of the argument, it would seem folly to suggest that the NFL is not a monopoly, and to let the situation get to an anti-trust suit seems to be a run to certain death. Plus, all 9 Supreme Court Justices just told you that you were acting like a monopoly. You (and the NFL) might say that it is 32 individual companies, but the fact of the matter is they all have to work in unison and are one corporation. Without the other teams, 1 team is useless. They have no one else to play against. Back in the days when football teams went barnstorming across the country playing various local teams, that argument held more water. But now, the NFL holds a tight monopoly on professional football.
Maybe it is hubris that causes the owners to think that they can win? Hubris certainly played a part in the American Needle case they lost 9-0. The appeals court had ruled in the NFL’s favor, yet the NFL decided to rub it in and support an appeal to the Supreme Court, thinking that victory there would seal in law and precedent their hold what essentially is an exemption from anti-trust laws. Hubris is what causes the owners to think that they are always getting jobbed in court by the special judge appointed to oversee all matters related to the collective bargaining agreement. The owners seem to truly feel that they lost cases related to free agency, medical benefits and a handful of other recent cases because the judge was biased against them. They can’t seem to see that they always lose because they are on the wrong side of the law.
Even now, most of the analysis of the case of whether the lockout is legal or not points to the players making a very strong and precise case about points of law, whereas the NFL seems to be trying to focus on legal technicalities. While I understand that many issues have been decided on technicalities and this is a perfectly acceptable strategy, it would also seem to me that if that is all you have to stand on, maybe you should rethink your plan, especially since this is a situation that you brought upon yourself! If you are looking to get off on technicalities in a criminal case, that is one thing. You have to try to help your client as best you can and it’s not like you can just walk away from a felony trial when you are the defendant because you don’t have any legal counterarguments. In this civil case, it would appear to be prudent for someone to tell the owners that it might be time to pack it in and try something else. Then again, rich and powerful people usually don’t like hearing bad news and they especially don’t like hearing “no”.
As much as I like football, there is a big part of me that is rooting for this situation to just keep going. I don’t mind if games or even a whole season are lost. All of the ups and downs are just as good or better than actual football. Plus, there is nothing I like better than watching people get what they deserve and it seems like the karma wheel is coming around to punish the NFL for all of its hubris.