Here’s some sanity amidst the lockout PR war
In any negotiation, each side tends to paint the opposing side as the tyrant, the villain, the bad guy while painting themselves as the oppressed, the downtrodden, or the righteous. In a negotiation revolving around the division of approximately $4 billion, this gets taken to extremes.
Both sides need to win the public relations battle and get public opinion in their favor. Doing so creates leverage in negotiations and puts pressure on the other side to cave on demands.
As it stands with the NBA lockout and continuing labor negotiations, the NBA is in firm control of the PR game. From the very beginning, the NBA portrayed itself as a victim of an unbalanced system, hemorrhaging money at every turn thanks to the system the players benefited from since 1999. It cried poverty and claimed that the lockout was necessitated by the need to create a more favorable economic model for itself in order to remain solvent while also creating a system in which parity reigns.
While billionaires crying poverty is pretty laughable, if 22 of 30 NBA teams were actually suffering losses, then changes did need to be made to the economic system — through a combination of basketball-related income adjustments and better revenue sharing among the teams. Fifty-two percent of BRI for the players, which the Players Association went to at one point, would have covered the teams’ losses; however, the NBA wanted a 50/50 split (at least) and, therefore, held out for more.
All the while, the players called the owners greedy, the owners called the agents greedy, and the fans called everyone greedy. Quite simply, the owners, players, and agents are all greedy and are all to blame for the impasse.
If the players and agents were not being greedy, then a 50/50 split of BRI would have been offered in July, making the NBA and players equal partners instead of players holding out for a slightly larger piece of the pie. Similarly, if the owners were not greedy, they would have accepted a deal once their operating losses were covered and left it at that instead of trying to get more.
And ignoring the role agents play in all this would be ignorant. After all, the agents get paid based on what the players they represent get paid, so if players get less, so too do agents.
But you know what? That is what a labor negotiation is all about — greed. No one here is fighting for safer working conditions or a livable wage. These aren’t coal miners or police officers. On the contrary; these are professional athletes and businessmen and lawyers, all of whom are very wealthy. So to characterize one side as greedy and not the other is erroneous.
Then there are those who criticize Michael Jordan for his hardline stance in these negotiations. Many like to call him a hypocrite after his outburst during the 1998-99 lockout when he, as a player, famously told then-Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin “If you can't make it work economically, you should sell the team.”
However, criticizing Jordan for his stance in these negotiations is hardly fair. For one, Jordan is not a player anymore; he is an owner. Is he supposed to stand up for the players while his franchise continues to lose money? Or should he look out for himself and his side, just as the players have done? In negotiations, each side is trying to get the best deal for itself. That’s what the players are doing, that’s what the owners are doing, and that’s what Jordan is doing.
Not to mention that during the first nine seasons Jordan was in the NBA, his salary never went above $4 million. Now, the average player salary is higher than that. So of course Jordan would fight for players to get paid more after spending nearly his entire career being underpaid. Considering how grossly overpaid some players are nowadays, he probably has a solid argument this time around, too.
And as for all the racial comments being thrown around, that is just nonsense. No one comes out calling the NBA or commissioner Stern racist until negotiations get heated, then the rhetoric starts. Bryant Gumbel sounded off at the end of HBO’s Real Sports in mid October, characterizing Stern as a “modern plantation overseer.” Then more recently, Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney for the Players Association, claimed that owners were treating players “like plantation workers.”
Kessler later apologized for his remark, but the fact is that these accusations are not going anywhere, no matter how misguided they may be. Magic Johnson even came to Stern’s defense, stating in a Sports Illustrated interview, “This league is more diverse than any other league and has more minorities in powerful positions than any other league. That’s all about David Stern and his vision and what he wanted to do. He made sure minorities had high-ranking positions from the league office all the way down to coaches and front office people.”
That is backed by the latest report card released by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. The 2011 report card gave the NBA an A+ for racial hiring practices and an A- for gender hiring practices. As a comparison, the NFL got an A for racial hiring and a C for gender hiring, while MLB received an A and B- respectively.
As tempting as it may be to vilify the opposing side in these often-contentious negotiations, it is important for both sides to remember that very little good comes of it. It is one thing when fans, ignorant of the inner workings of the negotiations, post comments blasting players or owners; it is another thing entirely when the people directly involved do the same.
By: Eric Lorenz
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