By Tom E. Curran
Last night, I got in a joust with a friend named Aaron Nagler on the Twitter. Nagler, a pretty funny entity who works at Cheesehead TVand tweets (@Aaron_Nagler) wondered why it was cool for players like Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski to go on NFL Network as a guestwhen incoming rookies are being discouraged from going to the NFL Draft which the NFL Network is (obviously) televising.
Actually, this brings up a fascinating (to me) conversation. You know the 1 billion credit the players give the owners every year from total league revenue? The money the owners are supposed to pump into ventures that grow the game? The NFL Network is a primary recipient of that money. So, in essence, the players have invested deeply in the NFL Network and are very much partners in that enterprise. They own it, too. Which is why on the Friday before the Super Bowl, the network didn't just televise the address by commissioner Roger Goodell but also the address by NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. Further, the players - near as I can tell - haven't really been censored when they've been on. They are allowed to speak their peace on whatever topic arises. It behooves them to get on there and make their message heard. OK, fine. So why - as Nagler was asking - should rookies be discouraged from attending the NFL Draft and be televised on NFLN?This is where the legal stuff comes in. The players have a pending lawsuit accusing the NFL of antitrust violations.When theywere a trade association, the now-disbanded NFLPA agreed to allow things that went against fair trade practices as long as the owners and players bargained collectively in good faith. Now that the NFLPA is no more and the CBA's expired, a draft telling players where they will work is not a fair trade practice. It's unconstitutional, a violation of antitrust law. Sohow's it look if the players are arguing in court that the NFL is violating antitrust law, yet showing up gleefully forthe draft?So far, the players' talking point on discouraging rookies from going to the draft is that the man with whom they shake hands - Goodell - is the one locking them out. As with so many things, the players havewhiffedon an opportunityto deliver a clearer message. The draft is a violation of their rights as American workers. And without a CBA, they can't rightfully participate. What they should do is point this fact out and then magnanimously agree to attend, not for Goodell and not for the NFL Network but for the fans. The people who want to see their team's jersey held up. That would win the players a helluva lot more points with the public (where they're getting killed, by the way), thenboycotting or intimating that some rookie is going to have a hard time with veterans because he went to New York. But, to me at least, veterans have every right to appear on NFLN. They own a stake. (Read Florio's opposite viewpoint at PFT right here.)