THE NFL STRIKE: A LEGACY OF PRIMITIVENESS AND MISCALCULATION
As another week of the NFL strike—the seventh—passed without a settlement, all the two sides had to show for their haggling was increased bitterness and a growing sense of doom about the already mangled 1982 season. As the owners' top negotiator, Jack Donlan, put it on Saturday, "We are not close philosophically, conceptually or economically."
What was the problem? Pro football wasn't exactly a depressed industry. The owners weren't going broke. The work force was well paid. No one could plead poverty. Why couldn't the owners and the players work things out?
The answers offered by Jack Getman, a professor of labor law at Yale, make as much sense as anything we've heard on the subject so far. Getman, who has engaged in labor negotiations on behalf of the United Steelworkers, the Connecticut state police and various teachers' groups, once taught a course on sports law at Yale and has kept an eye on the NFL negotiations. Getman notes that labor-management relations in professional sports tend to be relatively primitive and, at the same time, complex.
November 15, 1982
"Because of the structure of organized sport, it's not easy for the negotiating teams to make decisions to compromise," Getman says. "General Motors' negotiators come to the bargaining table with broad discretion, and only occasionally have to check back for instructions. In sport, with separate teams and ownerships, there are more constituencies for management negotiators to deal with. The players have conflicting constituencies, too. Player reps are under pressure from the linemen to be tough and from the stars to be softer. Other unions—the U.A.W., the Steelworkers—also have differences, but they've learned techniques for resolving them. I don't have the sense that the NFL union has been very efficient in developing those techniques."
In Getman's view, in fact, neither the management nor the union leadership has evinced much skill in dealing with its own people. "It's always easy to criticize the people across the table from you," he says. "But it's a measure of professionalism to be able to talk tough to your own people, to tell them at some point, 'You're full of——. You're cutting your own throat.' " Getman feels that NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey scores lower than chief management negotiator Jack Donlan in this area, possibly because of insecurity over having been outfoxed in the last contract settlement in 1977. "Talking compromise to the players doesn't seem to be a task Garvey relishes. It's just speculation on my part, but if he makes the kind of speeches at the table that he does in public, it can't be healthy for negotiations. He makes and remakes the same points, which can be annoying, and he doesn't seem to listen to what other people are saying."
Another problem cited by Getman has to do with attitude. He observes that many pro sports owners are self-made men with an anti-union bent and tend to be "buccaneers" by nature. In selecting labor negotiators they tend to pass over those who emphasize accommodation with unions and settle instead on we'll-show-them-who's-boss types like baseball's Ray Grebey and the NFL's Donlan. However, Getman discounts rhetoric by player reps that Donlan wants to "bust the union." He points out that the NFL needs a union to protect itself from prosecution for antitrust violations. "A lot of what the NFL does—college drafts, trades, restrictions on free agency—is clearly in restraint of trade," Getman says. "The NFL can get away with it only because it has bargained for those things with the union. But the league would like to keep the union weak. It's bargaining, not to kill the union, but to assert domination."
It was clear that the owners had made Garvey's job easier by misreading the mood of the players. The big rookie contracts of the last few years generated a great rumbling among the masses. The lessons learned since the Pop Warner League—one mustn't rock the boat, mustn't do anything to disrupt team unity—die hard. But those lessons have been undermined by a growing resentment toward a system that rewards a glamorous rookie more for his senior year in college than it does a workaday performer for a whole NFL career. It was to this discontent that Garvey attuned his contract demands—a wage scale and greater job security for veteran players. He found the right issues for his membership. He struck a nerve. And what did the owners do? They threatened to fine the players for shaking hands. They said, we won't negotiate your concepts. They did some of Garvey's work for him. They firmed the players up.
There are two other actors in this drama who need to be mentioned. One is Sam Kagel, the 73-year-old veteran of many labor wars who showed up to mediate the talks three weeks ago. Kagel is a head-knocker, and there's reason to think that the last thing needed at the table was a third hard-nosed party. The other protagonist is the press, whose periodic reporting of "progress" in the talks, sometimes based on information from just one side, only prompted the other side, or so it often seemed, to stiffen its resolve. "The press has been used to carry messages back and forth," said Getman. "It has been used to create a crisis atmosphere." As if the rival sides in this dispute needed any help on that score.
MOST VALUABLE PAPA
An event much discussed by TV commentators during the World Series took place six days after the Cardinals' Bruce Sutter struck out Gorman Thomas of the Brewers for the final out in the fall classic. At 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 26, Michele Yount gave birth to a son. Mother and child are doing well and so is the father, Brewers shortstop Robin Yount. The whole family will be doing even better this week if, as expected, Justin Yount's father is named the American League's Most Valuable Player for 1982.
COLOR THE VOTE GREEN
Last week's election results appear to have strengthened the hand of environmentalist forces for the expected Congressional showdown over the Reagan Administration's efforts to weaken the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. Through forced or voluntary retirement, 81 current House members will be gone when the 98th Congress convenes in January, and John McComb, director of the Sierra Club's Washington, D.C., office, says that only 29 of the departing legislators are regarded as pro-environmentalist. On the other hand, more than half of those taking their places fit that description, resulting in what McComb calculates as "a net gain of some 15 seats." The good news for environmentalists in the Senate is that two Republican leaders who have bucked the White House and taken strong pro-environmental stands, Vermont's Robert T. Stafford and Rhode Island's John H. Chafee, as well as a prominent environmentally oriented Democrat, George J. Mitchell of Maine, all beat back vigorous challenges to win reelection.
There were also disappointments for environmentalists, notably the defeat of Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Toby Moffett in Connecticut and Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. in California. Generally, however, environmentalists had reason to be pleased with the results of an unprecedented grass-roots campaign on their part to get out "the green vote." Although they could scarcely take credit for all the favorable results, the environmental issue was definitely a factor in the ouster of Senator Harrison H. Schmitt of New Mexico, a Republican with an appalling environmental record. Schmitt was upset by Democrat Jeff Bingaman, who had a small army of environmentalists stuffing envelopes and making phone calls for him. In what became an informal battle cry, Bingaman's supporters asked a question about former astronaut Schmitt that vaguely evoked environmental associations: "What on earth has he ever done?"
Significantly, even some politicians on the other side of the trenches felt the need to identify themselves with environmentalism. Republican Representative Dan Crane of Illinois, who won reelection, ran radio commercials claiming that the League of Conservation Voters had, in some unspecified way, "honored" him when in fact he had a less-than-mediocre 43% rating from that organization. Crane pulled the commercials after the league complained. Another House incumbent who was returned to office despite an even sorrier environmental record, Florida Democrat William Chappell, was able to exploit what may have been a small tactical blunder by the Sierra Club. Chappell was one of 281 Congressmen who voted to ban oil and gas exploration in wilderness areas. All of them received thank-you notes from the Sierra Club. Under attack by challenger Reid Hughes for his otherwise uninspiring environmental record, Chappell used the note in his campaign ads as a rebuttal.
The firing of Bowie Kuhn defies all logic, and not because Kuhn has done an exemplary job during his 13-plus years as baseball commissioner. On the contrary, even his supposed achievements have often been illusory. Although Kuhn has been given high marks in some quarters for protecting the game's "integrity," the use of that word is mocked by the fact that he has all too often appeared to play favorites and bear grudges in dispensing justice. For example, his $100,000 fine of San Diego owner Ray Kroc for tampering in 1979 was suspected by some to have been leveled in retaliation for Kroc's having spoken against Kuhn when he was up for reelection four years earlier. Kuhn also banned Willie Mays from baseball for a connection with legalized gambling—Mays is a glad-hander for an Atlantic City casino—while voicing no such objection to the fact that Pirate owner John Galbreath and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner have been deeply involved in horse racing, both as breeders and racetrack owners.
But if the commissioner has sometimes followed a double standard, the owners who employ him appear to have no standards at all. They chose not to elect him to a third seven-year term even though they had no successor in mind and, startlingly, even though they hadn't yet agreed on a redefinition of his office that would be required under an envisioned restructuring of the game's high command. In other words, Kuhn was deemed unqualified to continue in a job whose qualifications aren't even known.
That the owners may have been putting the cart well before the horse in sacking Kuhn is only one of many indications that there's a leadership crisis in baseball. Another is the fact that Kuhn will now apparently stay on the job until next August, leaving baseball with a lame-duck commissioner for more than nine months. A third is the schizophrenia that has resulted in the American League having a designated hitter and the National League not using one. Yet another is the very voting procedure under which Kuhn was ousted; he needed approval of three-fourths of each league's owners to win another term, and his reelection was blocked by the votes of only five National League owners.
The Alice-in-Wonderland approach to the question of whether to rehire Kuhn called to mind the election in 1965 of his immediate predecessor, retired Air Force General William D. Eckert, during which some of the owners reportedly were under the impression that they were voting for Retired Air Force General Eugene Zuckert. One can't shake the suspicion that some of the National League owners who voted against Bowie Kuhn thought they were firing Harvey Kuenn.
THEY SAID IT
•Doug Dieken, Cleveland Browns tackle, after he and several other NFL player reps met with Commissioner Pete Rozelle at Rozelle's office to discuss the strike: "The most significant thing that came out of it was that they told us not to steal the ashtrays."
•Fred Paulsen, basketball coach at Anoka-Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids, Minn., evaluating his team's prospects: "We have a solid bench. Now all we need is some solid players."