Peter King is Wrong: A Real Look at the NFL Labor Dispute

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Whether you loath him, or merely find him tolerable, Peter King is unquestionably considered by most observers as one of the journalistic NFL intelligentsia.  He votes for the NFL Hall of Fame; he's been one of SI's main writers on the USA's biggest sport since 1989.  He's had side jobs on TV since 2002.  He's undeniably one of the biggest names in NFL Journalism, and confident enough in that role that he can publicly proclaim that he was "transfixed" by a movie about Julia Child and a blogger who read Julia Child's book.

But that doesn't mean he can't get things wrong (I mean, aside from loving movies that are at widely considered remarkably average), and his new article on the NFL Labor Crisis in the most recent Sports Illustrated is an excellent case in point.  Some of the points I'm about to raise may seem minor, or overly technical, or just grasping, but taken together--King's article suggests, at best, a writer trying too hard to be "balanced", even though the facts don't really support that balance.  At worst?  Well, I'll let Peter speak for himself on that.  

Let's start with the lede, shall we?  It is constructed in that "balanced" way that journalists are so proud of these days, even though by being balanced, it serves to obscure some really basic truth.  King writes, right from the top: "They wouldn't dare. Would they? Would the players and the owners in the most lucrative league on the planet, with $9 billion in 2011 revenue at stake, play the biggest game of chicken in the history of sports labor? The NFL's collective bargaining set to expire in March 2011."

That, while technically true is about as misleading a journalist can be and still called a journalist (outside of Fox News).  Peter King never mentions why the agreement is set to expire in March of 2011.  Shockingly, King doesn't find it fit to mention that the CBA, when it was signed, was supposed to run through the 2012 season, but gave both sides the option to back out before then, and force a new deal.  At no point in his article does King say that the owners opted out, which is what they did.  From (a media source owned by the owners, and yet more willing to point out the facts than King:  "The 2006 extension, which could have continued through the 2012 season, gave both the NFL and the NFLPA an option to shorten the deal by one or two years. NFL clubs...voted unanimously to exercise that option."

The fact that King can't bring himself to mention that an opt-out is what started this crisis puts the rest of the article in question.

Another issue that King never addresses--he has one quote in his entire article, and it's an anonymous quote from "one influential NFL executive".  King quotes this executive as saying, "We have to find a way to get [NFLPA head] De[Maurice Smith] to see how good we all have it."  There's no counter-quote from a union rep anywhere in the article.  And again, no mention that it was the owners who opted out of the current deal, years before it was due to expire.  Who isn't seeing how good they all have it?  If you read King's article without any of the context that a real article would deliver, you would be lead to believe that the CBA was expiring naturally, and the players are grasping for more.  But that simply isn't the case.  The owners cancelled the deal, and if you read deep enough, you'll find out why, though it is through King's owner-influenced lens.  King identifies the Top Four Issues.

#1.  "The billion dollar giveback".  Some quick background--the owners and players share a pool of money. Right now, the owners take $1.4 BILLION off the top before the sharing.  And they now want an additional $1 Billion.  Owners say it's because they need that money to build their own stadiums.  King buys the owners line about this without even a second thought.  The argument goes like this--owners say, "Hey, all of a sudden, we have to build our own stadiums, when we used to rely on public money.  Since taxpayers got savvy, we are no longer able to get stadiums for free, and therefore, we need to take money out of the payroll so we can build new super-expensive stadiums."    King just accepts this as Gospel Truth, though I think a lot of questions about this argument could be made.  For example--hasn't every franchise that owns its own stadium seen their value go up, very quickly?  There is a reason the Washington Drunken Savages were the first franchise to be valued at $1 Billion, and one of those reasons was that they owned their own stadium.  According this article, the Giants are worth $1.18 Billion Dollars, and they had to spend $400 million to construct  the new Meadowlands.  So it will take them a few years to pay it off, sure.  But they are not destitute.  Especially when you consider that the public owners of the old Meadowlands (aka, taxpayers), still owe $110 million on a building that no longer exists!

#2  18 game schedule--I don't know why this is being mentioned by anybody.  Clearly, the NFL owners want it, because their fanbase isn't so willing to pay full price for pre-season games.  That's the only reason for it.  Don't anyone tell you otherwise.  It's bad for the players; it's bad for the game (in that in lessens the importance of each regular season game) and it's all about upping revenue streams.   Players hate it, because they don't get paid by the game, and they are the ones who are going to get physically hurt more often because of it.  This is the one point King accurately depicts the Union concerns, at least in part because it is too obvious to not get them right. 

#3  Sharing the Wealth--King shows some balls here, when he says that players get, "after some excluded fees, 60% of the total football revenue earned."  That's owner talk right there--"Hey, if you don't count the money we take out before the revenue share--which is $1.4 Billion Dollars, the players take 60% of the money home with them!"  Presumably, if the owners get their way, and add another $1 Billion to that take, they'll wait a year or two, and say "Not counting that $2.4 Billion we get right off the bat, the players are taking 70% of the money made on this game, and that's too high!"  The fallacy is obvious right?  It isn't revenue sharing if you are taking money out of the pot to begin with. It is really obvious, and yet Peter King treats it as if it were arcana that's too complicated to explain.  The NFLPA is quick to say (if King had asked them) that if you put that 1 Billion dollars back in the system, it's pretty much a 50/50 split, and considering that owners don't risk concussions or broken legs for 16-22 weeks in a row, that's pretty fair to them.  

#4 Pension.   The NFLPA has been clear about where money taken out of the system should go--to retirees.  The NLFPA has been willing to institute a Rookie Salary Cap similar to what the NBA has to help fund it.  It seems that owners might be on board, too.  If it weren't for the fact that they are trying to take  A BILLION DOLLARS out of the argument.  When King says that a major question for the pension fund is "where the money comes from" he's being somewhat disingenuous.  Everyone agrees that the money comes out of the exorbitant rookie pay.  The problem isn't where the money comes from; it's where the money goes.  The owners want to take that money, and they don't dig on giving that money to banged up retirees when it could be going to their newest yacht.  

Let's be clear.  The NFLPA had no problem with the old CBA.  The owners opted out.  The Owners are trying to take A Billion Dollars from men who risk their health on a weekly basis for 16-20 weeks a year.  But Peter King would like you to believe this is a battle between two equal sides.  Peter King is full of nonsense.