Sports Outside the Beltway

Players Winning PR Battle

Len Pasquarelli argues that, whatever happens now, the players’ union has been handed a victory in the P.R. battle.

In any battle pitting millionaires and billionaires, the public, comprised mostly of thousandaires, typically empathizes with no one, because it can relate to neither combatant. But by taking the union’s proposal to the owners, a blueprint not terribly dissimilar to the one unanimously rejected by owners Thursday in a 57-minute meeting, Tagliabue and the NFL have unwittingly declared Upshaw and the NFLPA the winners in the public relations battle.

And given the ham-handed history of the union and its leader, viewed in the past as having historically caved in labor negotiations, that is no small feat.

Under the current circumstances, no one is going to remember that Upshaw, who said numerous times that he couldn’t settle for a deal that didn’t include 60 percent of the total league revenues directed to players, is shy of that benchmark. Or that Upshaw, who claimed he would delay the start of free agency “under no circumstances” stopped the clock on two occasions. Nope, the NFLPA boss suddenly looks pretty good, even to the players and agents who have questioned his leadership over the past week.

Because the bottom line is this: Tagliabue has put the onus on the owners. If the deal falls apart now, it will be the owners — who are still locked in an intramural battle over revenue sharing among themselves that could turn contentious Tuesday — who bear the brunt of public criticism.

At this point there certainly is plenty of blame to dole out to two sides that may not have yet killed off the golden goose, but who definitely plucked some feathers from it. But the owners will catch most of the flak if the deal falls through now.

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