By TomE. Curran
On Sunday, Patriots owner Robert Kraft continued to sound more like a dove than a hawk on the labor front. Kraft, appearing at Gillette Stadium for Raytheon's "Science of Sports" Science Fair, told the media, "One of my concerns is that we not aggravate our fan base, and we have to be very careful. I think we're coming to that point now where we start to hurt ourselves collectively in the eyes of our fans. In the end, the fans just want football. They don't want to hear about all this meaningless squabbling."Kraft's words are genuine. I asked him on the Friday before the Super Bowl if he would take it as a personal failing if a labor stoppage actually happened.
"I think I will have failed if I can't help get . . . I've never seen the health of a business be as bright as this one,"he said then. He later added, "There's no reason for us to have a lockout, I'll say it again. There's enough elements there that we can do a deal and everyone's going to come out a winner. We've just got to get the lawyers away from the table."Kraft reiterated that Sunday. "I don't think there is another industry in America that's in the court system," Kraft said. "I always believe that you don't solve things through litigation, you solve things by people who have a long-term vested interest in the game sitting down and finding ways to build it."Right now, unfortunately what's going on is that we have union attorneys who are controlling a litigation process, and three-to-five years from now they'll be working on other cases and we'll be sitting with the players and agents and people who care about the game, and trying to figure out how to grow it and make it better. So I think people with a vested interest in the game, and growing the game, should be the people dealing with how to solve the problem of our current dispute."Who can disagree with Kraft's call for getting the lawyers out of the room and having the principals on both sides get a deal done? But persistently alleging the players unilaterally brought this on with litigation is dubious. The owners had their fist back and aimed at the players' faces for about two years preparing for the lockout. Yet when the players threw the first punch - one they had to throw or risk having their hands tied for six months - the owners acted injured. And ever since the owners have alleged the players caused the work stoppage. It's a lockout. And the willingness of the players to work was really, really evident when the lockout was temporarily lifted last month.The convenient argument made time and again is that the players decertified and brought on the litigation. Then the owners locked them out. The fact is, the sand was falling out of the hourglass on the final day of negotitations. The CBA was set to expire at midnight. The owners brought an offer to the players thatafternoon that lowballed projections for revenue increases. If the revenue numbers they "pegged" were exceeded, owners wanted to take 100 percent of the profits above that. The players had to make a decision. Continue to negotiate to the 11th hour and pass on decertifying - a tactic they would have had to wait an additional six months to use again - and risk the certainty that the owners would lock them out at midnight absent a new CBA deal being reached. So they acted. But the owners had their lockout strategy in place long before the players decertified. They forced the players' hand. So when Robert Kraft laments union lawyers being involved or Jonathan Kraft says players were the ones who walked away from negotiations, they're not being forthright about the landscape on that day. The lockout was coming at midnight.Decertification was the players' only option aside from trusting the owners and, at that point, their capacity to do that was gone. So the players fired the one bullet they had. And the owners - backed by their superstar legal team - joined the battle on that front very, very prepared for battle. There's little doubt neither side wants to be in court. But they're both to blame for being there. Tom E. Curran canbe reached at email@example.com.Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran