The NFL ownership circle is perhaps one of the most wealthy and exclusive in America. And they want to keep it that way.
Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of the ongoing NFL labor negotiations has been the NFL Players Association's proposal that any revenue they give back to owners in a new agreement be tied to ownership stakes in the league. Indeed, the proposal hardly seems to have been covered at all.
Buried on one of the pages on the NFL Players Association's NFLLockout.com website is this question: "Did you know that NFL owners have rejected the union's request that players get ownership stakes in return for assuming financial risk?"
Answer: No, most people don't.
That's in part because the NFLPA hasn't previously chosen to make the issue more of a public fight. But sources within the NFLPA told me this week that they have pushed during negotiations for ownership stakes in return for revenue and that NFL outside counsel Bob Batterman has unequivocally told them: "My clients aren't interested in being partners with your guys."
If ever there was a statement that best summed up why we seem to be headed for a work stoppage, that's it.
At best, Batterman's statement amounts to, "Sorry, you're not on the list." At worst, "You're not welcome here."
The flat-out refusal on the part of owners to consider allowing players -- and fans -- to own what would amount to relatively small shares in the league warrants further scrutiny from the sports media.
The request by the NFLPA seems like a reasonable one. NFL owners get the $1 billion they claim to need to grow the game and NFL players get something in return -- a stake in the future of the game. And we could finally put an end to these negotiations. (I would bet that NFL players would be much more like to go along with an 18-game season if they had ownership stakes.)
Likewise, since the NFL is asking -- and will continue to ask -- fans in NFL cities to help finance stadiums, fans deserve a stake in the franchises as well. But since fans aren't allowed to have a representative in the negotiations, that can't happen without the support of players.
Perhaps NFL players and NFL fans need to be partners.
Clearly, NFL owners are more interested in using players to extract money from loyal fans rather than working with both sides to truly grow the game. And they are so hell-bent on maintaining their exclusive club that they're willing to kill the game to keep it that way.
\Brian Frederick is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication and lives in Washington, D.C. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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