By Dan Bernstein–
Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL owners he represents must be loving the Jay Cutler saga.
Not because they have a vested interest in either side — whether it’s the defense of the maligned, mopey quarterback or support for those drunk on a cocktail of misinformation and machismo – but because there is public infighting between NFL players as important labor talks loom.
All eyes are on the league, and what they see is an ugly, petty squabble among multimillionaire athletes who look like gossipy high-schoolers.
Remember what happened before the prime-time season opener in New Orleans? Players from opposing sidelines staged a symbolic show of solidarity by marching on the field after the anthem, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with teammates, each raising one finger aloft and signaling across the field.
“We’re all one voice,” the Saints’ Drew Brees said that day.
Actually, you’re not.
Workers uniting for a common cause do not undermine each other by lobbing 140-character grenades with impacts that reverberate everywhere, immediately. Bruce Gradkowski, Darnell Dockett and Maurice Jones-Drew are not the same voice as Cutler, or teammates who have leapt to his side. Olin Kreutz, Brian Urlacher and Chris Harris are not exactly in the most fraternal of moods right now.
This has not gone unnoticed by NFL management, as they relish such dissention in the rank-and-file on display for the world.
“I thought they were a union,” Bears GM Jerry Angelo said yesterday, not resisting a dig. “If that’s the way they unionize themselves, they got bigger issues than the one they have with the owners.”
When a GM makes a point to lead his postseason press conference with that kind of comment, it is evidence that the league has seen an opportunity, and will try to exploit it. Angelo did not come up with that or deploy it entirely on his own, you can bet.
Brees knows this, since he’s a member of the NFLPA’s executive board. That’s part of the reason he was available yesterday to tell CBSSports.com “Nobody knows the extent of Jay Cutler’s injury except for him and the Bears’ training staff, so nobody can comment on it fairly. I think it’s unfair to do so, just because you don’t know.”
Too little, Drew, and way too late.
There is some mild irony at work here, as the explosion of social media and microblogging has often been seen as an issue for the league to control. Twitter was a concern to the commissioner, enough to necessitate rules preventing posts during games and within a certain time before kickoff.
Now, however, thoughtless players with a lack of impulse control may be using the technology to weaken their bargaining position, or, at a minimum, the public perception of their message.
This problem is bigger than the Cutler issue, and must be addressed by the very union leadership elected to do the talking for everyone else. There’s no point choosing a teammate to speak for you when you do it directly to the world, on a whim, and sometimes after half a bottle of cognac.
Why should union president DeMaurice Smith bother to hold meetings to provide talking points if so many players are tone-deaf?
This is the first collective-bargaining negotiation by any major sports league during the Twitter age. Management may have figured out that labor will talk some of its own power away, one inane, witless burst at a time.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM.
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