Players and owners still far apart as NFL strike heads into its third week
Like a pair of sack-minded defensive ends, stubborn labor and management leaders continue to throw the strike-riddled pro football season for a loss.
Their impasse again turned National Football League stadiums into ghost towns over the weekend. At the fine art of bargaining and negotiating, the two sides have been miserable failures, as reluctant to give ground as goal-line defenders. The players adamantly favor a wage scale just as adamanantly as owners oppose one..
A flicker of hope emerged during the strike's second week as the rival factions met in Washington. Both parties gave the impression that they would roll up their sleeves and accomplish something, but tempers flared and by Saturday negotiations broke off.
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, who as a supposedly neutral party has kept out of the fracas, suggested bringing in a federal mediator to ''relieve some of the antagonism.'' Representatives of the NFL Players Association, however, haven't gone along with the idea.
If either side is ''ahead'' at this point it may be the players. With few exceptions, they have supported their union and shut down the league. They also have moved closer to organizing their own alternative games than many observers thought possible.And in the area of formal complaints against the league, the players' union has taken a 3-0 lead.
Altogether 47 unfair labor practice charges have been lodged during the current collective bargaining process - 35 by the union and 12 by the Management Council, the owners' negotiating arm.
The few rulings handed down thus far have gone in the union's favor, with perhaps the most important of these occurring last week. That's when a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled that the league had violated fair labor practices by refusing to give the union copies of player contracts and details of non-monetary terms of network TV deals. Management's planned appeal of this ruling could tie things up for another year or more, which, of course, is no help whatsoever in resolving the immediate problems.
The real significance of NLRB's actions, as the union interprets them, is that they point to a pattern of management stonewalling and bad faith bargaining. And if the union succeeds in making that point to the NLRB, it could mean striking players would be guaranteed of getting their jobs back and possibly of collecting paychecks for missed games.
The owners, obviously, aren't taking all this lying down. Last week the Management Council express-mailed a document to reporters detailing the league's recent economic history. The material is no doubt aimed at painting a better picture of the owners and combatting union propaganda about the league's ''corporate socialism.''
On another front, players have been cautioned that participating in the union's proposed All-Star League is prohibited by their standard contracts.
As much as anything, talk about forming an alternative league may be a way to increase the owners' anxiety, since they have made no noticeable headway in pulling together makeshift squads of free agents and anti-union veterans.
The All-Star League, which will consist of a half dozen teams representing the NFL's six divisions, is reportedly set to begin play in Washington's RFK Stadium Oct. 10. The Turner Broadcasting System has been contracted to air the games, a commissioner picked (Brig Owens of the NFLPA's staff), and coaches selected (including former players Willie Wood, Bobby Layne, and Tom Matte).
Besides legal hurdles, the whole concept could be endangered by the risks involved.Even $4,000 or $5,000 a game may not be worth it to some players, who could be up thecreek if they were to incur a career-ending injury. Proceeds from the games are to go into a strike fund, but there could be little in it if the idea doesn't fly.
For the time being, many players are gathering for informal workouts wherever they can find available fields.
Basically both sides appear to be dug in for a long strike, but inwardly the participants must be getting itchy for some sort of breakthrough.
For beyond two weeks, the strike grows more critical. There are only two weeks the NFL has much flexibility with, those being the first week of the playoffs and the open Sunday before the Super Bowl. If the strike were to end suddenly, the league could finish its normal 16-game regular season by utilizing these two dates, eliminating the ''wild card'' round from post-season play. Once the strike goes to three or more games, some regular season game most certainly would be cancelled, a situation that could eventually make the season not worth finishing.
The owners have something of a running start into the strike, since they have season ticket revenues and network payments as capital. Ed Garvey, the NFLPA's executive director, felt TV aided and abetted the strike by paying the owners for two weeks of untelevised games. This money, however, will be subtracted from next year's payments if there is a shortened season.
Though unified up to this point, the players' solidarity could begin to show some cracks if there isn't some movement soon in the negotiations. Because the average playing career is so short (just over four years), some players might start thinking more about taking the fat raises management has been offering and quit thinking as much about the big picture and long-range wage scale benefits.