Bernstein: NFL Having It Both Ways

By Dan Bernstein–

CHICAGO (WSCR) I have to hand it to the NFL.

Few organizations could publicly promote their immediate future with such fanfare and grandiosity while simultaneously insisting none of it will ever happen if they don’t want it to.

What they’re saying is, “See all these great games coming up this year, especially all the first-week heavyweight matchups? You may not get them. Excited about your team’s first-round draft pick becoming their next impact player? Enjoy watching him work out on the treadmill next to yours at the health club.”

They know the dual-channeled messages are received differently, depending on how one’s antennae may be tuned.

Much of this is a show of size and force to a now-unofficial players’ union that is already showing signs of strain. Commissioner Roger Goodell thrusts forward his red-white-and-blue NFL shield and marches forward with his business. He’s Captain America in a charcoal-gray, pinstriped suit, sending a message of invincibility.

He hears every next report of another player swimming with loan sharks to keep his house, or selling a tricked-out Bentley for pennies on the dollar. Too many warnings of personal financial crisis were unheeded, creating a host of desperate, Aesop-fable grasshoppers who now watch as Goodell flexes league muscle.

A “die-hard ____ fan” (and I’m envisioning one of the message-board cretins or postgame-show callers, here) has no desire to follow the labor negotiations or courtroom wrangling because he can never understand it, and has no desire to try. He’s able to ignore any possibility that training camp will be cancelled or games will be missed. He’s never heard of David Boies, but he knows David Garrard and David Carr. He will lap up whatever the league feeds him, whenever, and is taken for granted by the NFL to underpin their strategy.

Those of us who think more rationally about our teams, though, are trying to balance all the relevant information to judge the proper level of emotional investment. We want to believe that neither players nor owners are stupid enough to do irreparable harm to such a wildly popular and profitable business, but we can’t be sure.

We care about the schedule, but don’t want to commit too much head-space to it until we are more certain it will actually exist. Same deal with the draft: it’s hard to celebrate an infusion of new potential talent without wondering when we’ll see it in uniform.

The mediated labor talks have adjourned until the middle of next month, with the two sides dug firmly into their positions, awaiting a ruling in the class-action antitrust suit. As that drama unfolds, league activities continue as if completely disconnected.

What we will see is that these parallel lines will eventually converge, and with greater force as every day goes by.

The NFL’s proud, business-as-usual approach will be seen as punishable arrogance by union leadership, even with the rank and file growing restless as bills pile up. Fans either willfully ignorant of reality or overconfident in a sensible outcome may be slapped in the face when zero-hour comes.

Owners and players are playing poker, empowered by our loyalty to the nation’s biggest sport as they exchange grim stares across the table.

Each splashy headline about this year’s big games or the next big star player is just a reminder of the stakes.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: NFL Having It Both Ways

Dan Bernstein

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. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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  • Larry Horse's Arse

    So, Bernsie, what else do you want them to do?
    The NFL teams/owners need to go about their business as best they can in a business as usual stance, in the hopes that the agreement with the players will soon be concluded with as little impact on their off-season programs as possible.

    How can you fault them for doing what makes sense???

    • Peter (in Rogers Park)

      Exactly. I wouldn’t expect the NFL to do anything other than continue with what business as usual that it can. It’s neither arrogant nor punishable behavior. In fact it demonstrates that the NFL continues to operate under the assumption that its position is reasonable, which is absolutely necessary.

  • British Bob

    Both sides think fans will be unchanged if there’s a lockout. They think what happened in baseball won’t happen to them. Basketball only missed half a season and still haven’t come back full strength.

    If there is a lockout (which I think there will be) NFL will come back pretty quick. Sunday football is more of an event than any other sports random Thursday or Tuesday games. However, smaller markets would feel a bigger backlash than here in Chicago.

  • mike in davenport

    It was nice to hear Robbie Gould take a few shots at ownership last night at teh Cubs game. I place the blame entirely on the owners, as the players were perfectly content to continue under the existing contract while renegotiating – it was the owners that opted out. Period.

    • Peter (in Rogers Park)

      For those of use who didn’t tune in to listen to Robbie Gould, what’s on his mind these days?

    • RealRick

      I agree with you, Mike.

      At the same time, it’s hard to have sympathy for a Players Association (which, I know, doesn’t really exist anymore) which constantly looks the other way at outrageous criminal activity on the part of many players that would cause any normal Joe or Jane to lose their job, home, friends, etc.

      How can the fans be blamed in any way for just throwing up their hands and ignoring the mess that is the NFL right now?

      I guess the fans are somehow at fault only in Bernsie World.

  • Chris in Scottsdale

    So when did parallel lines start converging? Someone get Euclid on the phone! ;)

    As soon as I heard about the impending lockout, I had a feeling that it would eventually end bad for the players. Even if they’re able to win convincingly in the courtroom, the league/owners can appeal/wait them out into financial despair, can’t they?

    I know football is a tacit agreement where men trade years and later quality of life to be handsomely compensated. They’re just going to have to concede to be less handsomely compensated, or the most popular place to catch player autographs this August won’t be training camp- it’ll be the title loan place on the corner.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    I don’t understand why there would be an economic impact NOW on the players.
    My understanding (perhaps incorrect) is that the players get paid during the season after each game…that they get a “game check” of 1/16 of their salary after each game. During off-season camps, training camps etc. they might get a daily stipend but that is bupkes. And during the playoffs/Super Bowl they get a check for each game based on some revenue formula from the gate of the game.

  • Beard Man

    I think that Goodell released the schedule as a grandstanding measure to try and pressure the negotiation. “See? If we don’t fix this, you don’t get Packers-Saints, or Bears-Falcons. You don’t get to see if Josh Freeman takes that next step he seems ready to take. You don’t Rex vs Rob Ryan this year. (Which, while getting old, is still funny).” What I don’t get are people who blame the players for the lockout. By definition, the owners caused it by locking out their employees. The players would have kept going under the old CBA. I’ve seen Twitter snipers taking aim at guys like Chad Ochocinco and our own Chris Harris for “being greedy” and trying to “get more money” when that’s simply not true. And it’s out of their hands now anyways, it’s up to the super-lawyers to save the NFL now. I’ll be back watching on Sundays when they fix this thing, but it’ll be different. For now I need to go beer shopping so I can be good and drunk when Jerry Angelo inevitably trades our 1st rounder for 2 third rounders and re-stocks his Vanderbilt vending machine next weekend. Daaa Bearrsss!

    • Peter (in Rogers Park)

      I think that Goodell released the schedule as a good faith measure to try and further the negotiation.

  • Larry

    I’m still trying to figure out how the draft is going to work this year. Player gets drafted by team, player is welcomed to new team andshakes hands with team GM and Roger Goodell (or not), then team tells player “Sorry, guy, we can’t talk to you now that you’ve been drafted. We’ll catch up with you after the lockout ends”.


  • Beard Man

    Larry, I believe that there’s a loophole that allows teams to talk to their newly drafted players as long as the draft is still going on. So there’s probably going to be some heavy miles put on these owners’ private jets next weekend.

  • Jetdoctor

    You are so quick to condemn the “diehard” fan as ignorant when he doesn’t understand the most recent conversations at the labor negotiation. He is uneducated when he doesn’t know the major players at the table. And he has no concept of the delicate concessions between these MULTI MILLIONARES. I get you’re preemptively arguing “don’t comment unless your die hardness” forces you to read all the CBA information presented. What if the diehard fan is a an average guy who doesn’t make a 1/10 in a life time what these stars make in a year and just wants to watch football this year. This fan may have invested years in watching his favorite team and would like to see these professionals go back to work with an agreement they can all live with. While he/she may not have all the savvy and understanding you do (mostly because this is your profession) they still have a right to comment on the sport they enjoy watching in the fall and the very same that could leave them viewing the soccer channel for entertainment.

    • bronzo

      Well done Mr. Jetdoctor…..I agree wholeheartedly.

      The fans are the ones that lose here …and if we want to have an opinion about it… WHATEVER IT IS… it should not be marginalized by some “know-it-all-sportscaster.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        LOL Peter.

        I don’t have a Bentley to hock, so I will just continue to hock mier en chinik.

      • Peter (in Rogers Park)

        I think we should decertify the Message Board Cretins Union! These fat cat bloggers don’t appreciate that we, not they, are the heart and soul of quasi-informative, half-assed internet blather! We, not they, risk carpal-tunnel and eye strain for the amusement of a few other similarly minded cretins! Somebody get me DeMaurice Smith! I’m hocking my Bentley! It’s On!

      • bronzo

        We just might Larry…we just might

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        nicely put, bronzo
        do we qualify here as “message board cretins”???

    • Murphfan1138

      I agree Jetdoctor, but it’s not limited to Bernstein, the majority of the Score’s on-air talent hates the “diehard meatball fans” with a passion. I just don’t get the war they’re waging against the “meatball fans”, They’re being naive if they think they can get rid of “meatball fan behavior” from sports permanently. And why do they worry so much about what the national sports media thinks about us Chicago sports fans anyway?

      While being a fairly rational sports fan (and occasional message board cretin), all I need to know about this is the owners want more money for themselves and the players want the status quo. Everything else is secondary. I don’t worry about the lockout because there is simply too many other teams playing right now, like the Blackhawks and the Bulls, not to mention both baseball teams.

      If we wanted to really make an impact on the message boards, we can just stop commenting on Bernstein’s blog entries altogether. Activity would drop at least 95% if we did this.

  • Logique

    Regarding the article in the Trib.

    19 players have posted 7500 points, 3000 rebounds, and 1000 assists before age 25:

    Kareem, Oscar, LeBron, Duncan, Barkley, Shaq, Magic, Nowitzki, Dantley, McAdoo, McGrady, Bosh, Brand, KG, Carmelo, LUOL, Abdur-Rahim, Josh Smith, Antoine Walker.

    • British Bobo

      A Shareef Abdur-Rahim reference. I like it.

  • RealRick

    Why are you so vitriolic against the fans?

    What have they done, or failed to do, that has caused this impasse between the owners and the players?

    How are the fans, in any way, responsible for the NFL propagandizing a season that may not occur (propagandizing abetted by a compliant media, I might add) or players who are starting to crack under financial strain?

    “message board cretins and post-game show callers”? Do you really have this much smug disdain for the fans?

    Bottom Line: This blog entry is great grist for your therapist, Bernsie.

    But, as far as sports analysis, it’s pretty worthless.

    • Murphfan1138

      Yes. Yes he does Rick.

  • Jake from da burbs

    It will be real interesting to see if the report of a contingency of mid-level or lower paid players (70+) trying to get legal counsel and try to join the bargaining table is true. If there is dissension amongst the ranks, its deep trouble for the NFLPA and suddenly the owners who look closer to caving and giving in, may re-fortify and may stand their ground longer to see if they can get their way.

    Lot of wild cards here at play…

    • Larry Horse's Arse

      I totally agree with you, Jake.
      In fact I googled that story this morning to see if there were any more details, but there was nothing reported beyond what you summarized for us.
      Unlike most unions, which usually have a wage-scale set for everyone in the unit (with seniority as the factor that provides increases), the unions in sports follow the model of the Screen Actors Guild…a minimum scale for all but with the right to negotiate an individual contract above scale.
      As with all unions, the difficulty arises with the competing interests among the collective group…..younger, older, stars, practice-squad guys, guys who worry about concussions and those who don’t consider it much, those who want to focus on pensions and deferred-comp and those who want all the cash up-front, those who want to provide for older, retired players (the Doug Atkins types) and those who have no sense of history or gratitude, etc. etc. etc.

  • not a wife beater

    Does Bernsie realize the people who listen to sports talk radio are the ones he constantly criticizes? When bears fans call his show on the Monday after the bears game or during the week those people are postgame callers as well. If you are a fan that differs from Bernsie in anyway you are a cretin or wife beater apparently.

    What I find ironic is Bernsie is the person he critcizes. He admits being a meatball while watching games and IS A SPORTS RADIO TALK SHOW HOST FOR A LIVING. He criticizes fans constantly for not knowing enough about something, name the sport, yet they don’t have the proper perspective or rationale. Well most people don’t have the time to be experts, that is why they might tune into sports radio or Doug and OB.

  • crash corrigan

    DB feels he s/b writing for the NY Times.


    There are reports suggesting that the NFL may lift its now 41 day-old lockout as soon as Monday. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s very awkward that the NFL is going forward with its annual Draft one week from tonight in New York, especially with the ongoing labor situation that I feel is very dicey and is far from being a done deal. I also don’t buy Commissioner Roger Goodell telling people that the NFL will start the season on September 11th, despite the labor cloud that’s still very much hanging over the league. I’m not so sure the NFL will be starting on time if there’s no new deal in place by the time camps are supposed to open in late July or early August.

  • Cretin

    I dunt undrstaind. I like football, why no football?


    I think a lot of us like football, but it’s the business end of this labor situation, the bickering, finger pointing & litigation related to this NFL lockout tends to turn a lot of fans off. I also wonder if there’s really anything newsworthy with very little that has been said in these talks. What I want to know is there a new deal between these two sides, and until there’s one, I don’t think there should be an NFL Draft and the business of football has everybody’s hands tied.

    As for a non-NFL topic, it appeared as if flipflopping Carlos Quentin & Adam Dunn in the White Sox lineup last night in their 4-1 loss to the Rays actually worked. I have yet to see tonight’s starting lineup for the finale of four at “The Trop”, but I’ve got to think Ozzie’s not done juggling in an effort to get the Sox out of their 7-game funk. I’ve got to think Gordon Beckham might be either out of tonight’s lineup for rest or moved down to #7 or #8 with Alexei Ramirez following Juan Pierre in the #2 hole. Even those moves might not be permanent, but right now, Ozzie will do almost anything to leave St. Petersburg, FL without his team getting swept.


    Speaking of the White Sox lineup, here’s how they’ll deal with Rays’ pitcher Jeff Niemann:

    Pierre LF, Vizquel 2B, Quentin RF, Konerko 1B, Dunn DH, Rios CF, Pierzynski C, Ramirez SS & Teahen at 3B for a third straight game. Gavin Floyd tries to stop the bleeding for the White Sox.

    2B Gordon Beckham is not in tonight’s lineup after an 0-for-4 night in last night’s 4-1 loss to the Rays and a dropping BA now at .220, while 3B Brent Morel is scheduled to return to the lineup tomorrow in Detroit. Ozzie maintained to reporters last night that “Morel’s my third baseman.” I’m not sure how much longer Morel will be here if he continues to struggle…


    Let me correct myself. For what it’s worth, 2B Gordon Beckham’s BA is now at .222, while 3B Brent Morel’s not much better. He’s hitting .220, and sitting for a third straight game tonight for the White Sox. Beckham, Morel, Alex Rios & Adam Dunn are 4 of the regulars that are really struggling during the Southsiders’ current 7-game losing streak. I’m not sure what can be done other than moving guys around in the batting order. There’s also no help in the minors should Beckham & Morel continue to struggle.


    I see the schedule the Bears have, and then I think, “not too bad.”
    And, then I think, “it might be nice to have a break from the 31st-ranked offense.”
    To have a break from instant replay.
    To not, even, have to think about the playoff potentials of Houston and Cincinnati
    No games played on blocks of ice.
    Add two more games to this schedule, and I’ll make it a point to ignore, at least, two games from the year.
    Sixteen was getting to be too much.
    Football can be great, but it can be a chore.


    What about the kids that are in a shipwreck and wash ashore on a deserted lagoon?
    Won’t they be more creepy?

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