clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Roger Goodell's Wall Street Journal Op-Ed Is A Scare Tactic, And Here's Why

Roger Goodell's op-ed piece in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal is filled with scare tactics and red herrings. We explain why you shouldn't buy his rhetoric.

Getty Images

Roger Goodell took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday to express his displeasure with Judge Susan Nelson's decision to lift the lockout. This isn't the first time Goodell has penned an op-ed piece and likely won't be the last, yet he keeps spitting out the same empty rhetoric while insulting the intelligence of the fans and players. At its core, the piece is out of touch, filled with countless scare tactics and doomsday scenarios in an effort to sway the court of public opinion. The NFL took a hit in the courts, and now Goodell is trying to save face in the court of public opinion.

You can read the whole piece over at the Wall Street Journal website, but we'll go ahead and explain what it means in simple terms below.

Late Monday afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson issued a ruling that may significantly alter professional football as we know it.

Cue the dramatic music. It's always good to start an op-ed piece with the threat of impending doom. Roger Goodell, you sly dog, you.

For six weeks, there has been a work stoppage in the National Football League as the league has sought to negotiate a new collective-bargaining agreement with the players.

And who was at fault for this work stoppage? Was it not the league locking the players out? Did the league not set the deadline, fail to negotiate in good faith then lock the players out?

But Judge Nelson ordered the end of the stoppage and recognized the players' right to dissolve their union. By blessing this negotiating tactic, the decision may endanger one of the most popular and successful sports leagues in history.

Suddenly, after failing to negotiate in good faith with said union, Goodell is pro-union and wants to embrace the NFLPA and unions as a whole. After years of fighting and cursing the union, Goodell wants to love it. And, once again, we have the threat of impending doom. For those keeping score at home, that's twice in the first two paragraphs. He just can't keep this pace up, can he?

What would the NFL look like without a collectively bargained compromise?

A rhetorical question, of course. You can be damn sure Goodell doesn't want to find out the answer to this question. Why? Because without a collectively bargained compromise, his league would be about as successful as the XFL. The owners would never allow it to get that far.

For many years, the collectively bargained system—which has given the players union enhanced free agency and capped the amount that owners spend on salaries—has worked enormously well for the NFL, for NFL players, and for NFL fans.

If this was the case, why did the league not extend the previous CBA? Was that not what the players were asking for? Instead, the owners wanted a bigger take, threw out the red herring that was an 18-game schedule and generally sought to change many of the foundations of the old system. But, yes, it was working enormously well.

For players, the system allowed player compensation to skyrocket—pay and benefits doubled in the last 10 years alone. The system also offered players comparable economic opportunities throughout the league, from Green Bay and New Orleans to San Francisco and New York. In addition, it fostered conditions that allowed the NFL to expand by four teams, extending careers and creating jobs for hundreds of additional players.

The system didn't allow the NFL to expand. The NFL expanded for a simple reason: Money. Not for the players, but for the league as a whole. Why else would four teams be added? Because of a collective bargaining agreement? The CBA had nothing to do with expansion or job creation. Nothing at all.

For clubs and fans, the trade-off afforded each team a genuine opportunity to compete for the Super Bowl, greater cost certainty, and incentives to invest in the game. Those incentives translated into two dozen new and renovated stadiums and technological innovations such as the NFL Network and

What? Those incentives created new stadiums? You mean the publicly-funded stadiums that have become bigger, grander and more expensive. Like, say, the $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium, which included $350 million in public funding and a $150 million loan from the league. And let's not act as if those technical innovations weren't for the benefit of the league. These are revenue streams and Goodell knows it.

Under the union lawyers' plan, reflected in the complaint that they filed in federal court, the NFL would be forced to operate in a dramatically different way. To be sure, their approach would benefit some star players and their agents (and, of course, the lawyers themselves). But virtually everyone else—including the vast majority of players as well as the fans—would suffer.

Again, doom and gloom. This entire paragraph is an effort to drive a stake down the middle of the players' union. By threatening those low-end players, Goodell is, once again, bringing up a red herring. Predicting an NFL apocalypse, while admitting this plan will benefit some players, is operating under false pretenses again.

Rather than address the challenge of improving the collective-bargaining agreement for the benefit of the game, the union-financed lawsuit attacks virtually every aspect of the current system including the draft, the salary cap and free-agency rules, which collectively have been responsible for the quality and popularity of the game for nearly two decades. A union victory threatens to overturn the carefully constructed system of competitive balance that makes NFL games and championship races so unpredictable and exciting.

Wait, what? You mean the union that was trying to negotiate, yet never received cooperation from the league? The union that requested open books and financial clarity, yet was given the runaround until the negotiation clock expired? Goodell is shifting the blame, once again. It's not the league's fault, it's that big bad players union.

The players union didn't spend years planning a lockout. The players union didn't negotiate TV contracts around a lockout in an effort to boost reserves while still allowing owners to receive a healthy revenue stream during a lockout. The owners created the us vs. them battle, not the union.

In the union lawyers' world, every player would enter the league as an unrestricted free agent, an independent contractor free to sell his services to any team.

Once again, the doomsday scenario. Goodell points out what would happen should an antitrust lawsuit ever come to pass. Would it? Not a chance in hell. The owners will cave by the time they see the writing on the wall. And right now, we're getting close to that point, as evidenced by Goodell's desperation play.

Any league-wide rule relating to terms of player employment would be subject to antitrust challenge in courts throughout the country. Any player could sue—on his own behalf or representing a class—to challenge any league rule that he believes unreasonably restricts the "market" for his services.

Isn't this the whole point? This is why the league is so scared of an antitrust lawsuit. Goodell, essentially, states the NFL is already in violation of antitrust laws. Under the guise of a collective bargaining agreement, it's fine. But when that agreement evaporates, coupled with the union's decision to decertify, the league is suddenly open to challenges. The league needs the power over the players and needs the union. It's scared of a world without a players union all of a sudden.

No draft. "Why should there even be a draft?" said player agent Brian Ayrault. "Players should be able to choose who they work for. Markets should determine the value of all contracts. Competitive balance is a fallacy."

So he chooses the words of one of the small-time agents as an example? Could he not get Drew Rosenhaus on the phone? Did he just pull this quote from thin-air? Once again, we have a scare tactic.

No minimum team payroll. Some teams could have $200 million payrolls while others spend $50 million or less.
No minimum player salary. Many players could earn substantially less than today's minimums.


No standard guarantee to compensate players who suffer season- or career-ending injuries. Players would instead negotiate whatever compensation they could
No league-wide agreements on benefits. The generous benefit programs now available to players throughout the league would become a matter of individual club choice and individual player negotiation.

One of the reasons we're in this mess is benefits, pensions and compensation for players with injuries. It's not up to par, yet the league refuses to make adequate concessions. And calling the programs generous? There's a few players that would disagree with this assessment.

No limits on free agency. Players and agents would team up to direct top players to a handful of elite teams. Other teams, perpetually out of the running for the playoffs, would serve essentially as farm teams for the elites.

He just pulled this out of thin-air. I know it. It's a pretty big stretch to go from "no limits on free agency" to SUPER TEAMS. There's no proof, other than his word, that this would happen.

No league-wide rule limiting the length of training camp or required off-season workout obligations. Each club would have its own policies.

I'm failing to see a problem with this.

No league-wide testing program for drugs of abuse or performance enhancing substances. Each club could have its own program—or not.

Because the current NFL drug testing program is such a shining example? When players are bigger, faster and stronger, yet almost nobody is failing a drug test, there's something wrong with the system.

In an environment where they are essentially independent contractors, many players would likely lose significant benefits and other protections previously provided on a collective basis as part of the union-negotiated collective-bargaining agreement. And the prospect of improved benefits for retired players would be nil.

The league will never -- EVER -- get to this point. If the league were operating under the constant threat of antitrust lawsuits, it would cease to exist. Remember, it was the league that chose to kill the current collective bargaining agreement, as well.

Is this the NFL that players want? A league where elite players attract enormous compensation and benefits while other players—those lacking the glamour and bargaining power of the stars—play for less money, fewer benefits and shorter careers than they have today?

The players don't want this NFL, either. Here we have another set of scare tactics and an attempt to divide the players. Not a big star? Too bad, you won't get paid. So come on over to the dark side and fight against your union representatives.

Prior to filing their litigation, players and their representatives publicly praised the current system and argued for extending the status quo. Now they are singing a far different tune, attacking in the courts the very arrangements they said were working just fine.

Sure they were. They were content to keep the status quo as long as the league gave the union a fair shake. But now that the league has failed to negotiate in good faith and taken the drastic step of a lockout, the players are firing back. The NFL had the players by the balls, using the loss of paychecks and the work-stoppage to break the union. So it's not all right for the players to turn to the courts -- the only place they could feasibly fight back?

Is this the NFL that fans want? A league where carefully constructed rules proven to generate competitive balance—close and exciting games every Sunday and close and exciting divisional and championship contests—are cast aside? Do the players and their lawyers have so little regard for the fans that they think this really serves their interests?

Now we have a problem and the American public should, too. Goodell has just insulted your intelligence. And, to be honest, the fans don't give a damn. The fans want football. Period. They want a product on the field and don't care what it takes to get there. Yet Goodell is so out of touch, he can't see the public's grown tired of the lockout and litigation. We want football.

These outcomes are inevitable under any approach other than a comprehensive collective-bargaining agreement. That is especially true of an approach that depends on litigation settlements negotiated by lawyers. But that is what the players' attorneys are fighting for in court. And that is what will be at stake as the NFL appeals Judge Nelson's ruling to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

And thus, we've reached the conclusion. Judge Susan Nelson has threatened the very foundation of the NFL with her ruling. If the ruling is not overturned, the NFL is doomed and might as well pack its gear up and walk away.

But what Goodell fails to acknowledge is Nelson's ruling does nothing from an operational standpoint. The NFL is still setting the rules here and would still set the start of the offseason. It would, in theory, progress as normal. The draft will go on, free agency would begin and the start button would be hit.

Nelson's ruling places the NFL in a perilous negotiating position and Goodell knows it. The entire op-ed piece is a Hail Mary from Goodell in an effort to sway public opinion. Without a lockout in place, the owners have no ability to break the players and will be forced into concessions at the bargaining table with the threat of an antitrust lawsuit hanging in the balance.

With billions of dollars at stake, the owners will never allow an antitrust lawsuit come to pass. The lawsuit itself is a bargaining ploy -- we know it, the NFL knows it and the players know it. It's a nuclear option that's on the table in case the NFL continues to drag its feet. The league won't, and Goodell's op-ed piece is a sign of complete desperation.

The NFL brought this upon itself and opted out of the previous CBA. The league had a chance to extend it and allow players to continue working under the old agreement while negotiations continued, yet chose to go forward with a work-stoppage. It forced the union's hand by failing to open its books and show the financial records, a pretty clear sign the owners aren't as impoverished as we were led to believe. And now that the shoe is on the other foot, Goodell has resorted to red herrings and veiled threats in an effort to sway both the players and the public opinion.

It didn't work and, in fact, it may have done more harm than good. Goodell is out of touch, and the owners are right there with him. While the league argues over billions, the American public is struggling, making sympathy hard to come by. But by making a desperation plea in a very public way, Goodell has insulted our intelligence and thumbed his nose at the players and fans.