DeMaurice Smith on the NFL Labor Dispute
Coming into this job two years ago, I knew we faced the potential end of the working relationship between NFL players and owners. The owners had opted out of [extending] the collective bargaining agreement in 2008. The NFL had already negotiated TV contracts to give them about $4 billion—even if the games weren't played. If new terms weren't reached, they were ready to lock out the players and prevent them from working in 2011.
I wrote to Commissioner Roger Goodell to say we needed transparency to mutually grow our business. We wanted to get a clearer picture of the NFL's financial situation. I asked to see their audited financial statements, but Commissioner Goodell responded that I had all the information I needed. That was a defining moment for me: I understood how we were perceived by our so-called partner. The commissioner was basically saying, "I'm making the judgment that you have all the information you need to make a decision." Shouldn't I be making that determination?
Given this stance, we had to look at all of our options. That included being prepared to decertify the union, which was the only way our players could seek antitrust protection through the courts—and prevent a lockout. We were prepared for a negative outcome, but we were bargaining in good faith right up to the last day [Mar. 11]. The owners made a decision to not provide us with what every businessperson would consider the baseline level of information. On that last day, I turned to them and said, "Which one of you would ever advise your children to make a billion-dollar decision without rudimentary financial disclosure? My guess is that none of you gentlemen have ever made that kind of decision without fundamentally understanding what business you're getting into. Why are you asking us to do something that you've never, ever done?" None of them responded.
Decertification was the only decision they left us with. It's the players who are making the real choice. They know that NFL careers often aren't long ones. We rest comfortably at night knowing we're doing the right thing.