Yesterday at noon pacific the NFL Players Association conducted a conference call that feature Domonique Foxworth of the Baltimore Ravens, Scott Fujita of the Cleveland Browns, and George Atallah who is the NFLPA Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs. The primary topic of discussion were the healthy and safety concerns NFL players have related to the state of the game and the potential implications of a new collective bargaining agreement.
I was unable to call into the conference call, but the NFLPA sent along mp3 audio of the question and answer session (warning: it's a fairly large file). The call lasted 54 minutes and if you have a few minutes I think it's worth a listen. Coincidentally enough (I'm guessing it's not a coincidence), Fujita and Foxworth both saw their seasons cut short by injury and finished up on injured reserve.
As the two of them work through their rehab, they expressed great concern during the call as to the state of their rehab once the lockout begins. Once the lockout begins I don't believe they'll have access to team facilities or team trainers, which will apparently leave injured players sort of fending for themselves. I'd imagine they'll speak with their trainers before a potential lockout would begin, but it certainly would create a shaky situation.
What's most interesting is that one has to wonder how (or even if) the NFL owners will leverage the players using this injury issue. If a lockout occurs, player will have a tough time finding reasonable insurance given the pre-existing conditions and whatnot. I'd imagine the owners know this and are potentially counting on that potentially forcing the players more to the ownership position.
This safety issue of course leads to the 18-game schedule issue. Early in the call, the players addressed this issue and basically said no-way, no how. Later they were asked what it would take to make it work, but they seemed to indicate there had not been sufficient give back from the owners in the form of proposals to really address what would make it work. I'd imagine part of that is posturing as they aren't the only guys doing the negotiating and thus don't want to give away anything they don't have to give away.
I've read somewhere that the league has discussed the idea of reducing things like required OTAs and other workout options, as well as basically turning the four-game preseason into two games, so there'd be no change in the total games. If you want to read more about the league's take on the 18-game schedule, I did a search at nfllabor.com and these are the results.
Personally I view this whole thing as a battle of the spin machines. I'm not accepting anything at face value, but I thought this was worth providing so you can determine for yourself what you'll believe. You're more than welcome to be whole-heartedly in support of either side. However, all I ask is that you at least inform yourself fully about both sides. At this point the two sides have set up their respective websites (NFL: NFLLabor.com; NFLPA: NFLLockout.com).
Of course these sites are very much in the business of public relations for each side, so you have to take some of it with a grain of salt. When NFLLabor.com was first set up it was much more of a strictly fact-based site that didn't present much in the way of pro-owner opinion (I won't go and call it anti-union animus at this point). Now it's a bit more in the business of spin. That's not to say NFLLockout.com isn't any different.
I won't simply say, "As a fan all I want is football next year." It's not so simple, particularly given the advancing discussions about player safety over the course of this season and recent years. The money issues are significant, but the issue of player health and safety must be addressed in a better fashion. Having Commissioner Goodell re-writing some of the rules and fines as the season rolled along is not the best way to ensure player safety.
One of the players on the conference call mentioned how after an explanation of new rules on hits some of the players were more confused about what was legal. This really is the perfect opportunity for the players and owners to come together and actually improve the safety of the players on the field, and their care after their careers are over. I think an 18-game schedule is fairly inevitable at this point, but Fujita and Foxworth made excellent points about improving post-career health career. That sort of thing will be absolutely necessary if the sport of football is going to be sustained in America.