Commissioner Roger Goodell discussed labor negotiations and the two-decade tradition of players attending the NFL Draft in an interview with Rich Eisen tonight on NFL Network.
Eisen asked the Commissioner about clearing his schedule to get back to negotiations.
“With all due respect, I couldn’t get off this show fast enough to get to mediation,” Commissioner Goodell said. “We didn’t push away from the table. We were still at the table when they walked out on mediation. So for us to go back to mediation, you call me and I’ll be there. It’s a decision the mediator has to make, but we would certainly be there, and I expect we will be there.”
“We all made an agreement that we were going to work through the mediation process because we thought it was the fastest and fairest way to get to a collective bargaining agreement,” the Commissioner added. “We need to get back there, get away from the rhetoric and get to an agreement.”
Click here for video of the interview.
Below is a transcript of the interview:
Commissioner Roger Goodell interview with Rich Eisen
NFL Network – March 15, 2011
I want to talk to you about the first issue that’s the freshest that’s in the mind right now and that is the draft. And word that there could be a competing show, for the lack of a better phrase, across town that the players’ association, or the trade association as it’s currently constituted, would have the new draftees at their own party, if you will, instead of having them come up on stage in the traditional role of having you as the Commissioner welcome them to the National Football League. What’s your response to that?
“One of the things that makes the NFL Draft so great is that it’s an opportunity for these great young players to realize their dreams, their hopes and dreams. Anyone that I think would interfere with all of the work that they’ve put in to walk across that stage and become an NFL draft choice, I just don’t think that’s in the best interest of the young men and their families that have worked so hard to get to that stage and get to that opportunity. And it clearly is not something that the fans are going to want.
“They watch the draft in great numbers; as you know, 45 million people watched the draft last year. The fans want to see the reaction of these young men when they do realize that dream. I think it’s a great event because it’s a reality show. It’s an opportunity for those players to share that experience. It’s one of the things that I take the greatest pride in as Commissioner of being a part of that opportunity for them to start their NFL careers on that kind of a stage.”
Let’s get into some of the nitty-gritty here, as to how we got to this point and then move forward. I’d love to ask you about the concept of opening the books. This has been something that the former players’ association, now trade association, has been calling for the league to do for quite some time. And I know you called that with me in our conversation at the Super Bowl a “negotiating ploy.” That said, a lot of fans are wondering if the numbers back up the point of management, if the truth of the numbers are your ally, why not just open the books and move this off the table and move things forward?
“That’s exactly what we did last week in the mediation process to make sure that the players had asked for a certain amount of data and we, as the NFL, agreed last week that we would share information with them that was audited financials over a five-year period that would show them profits on a league-wide basis and a club-wide basis. That was information that they had asked for several times before. They had to sign a waiver and it was audited results, and most importantly, it was information we don’t even share with our other 32 teams. So it was information that we thought was responsive to what they were asking for, but also something that if they really did feel this was going to help move the ball, they would have accepted, taken that information and we would have been able to reach an agreement.”
What about the rhetoric that’s happened since then, Commissioner, that they’re calling the chief negotiator of the National Football League, and they have on several occasions, Jeff Pash, a liar? They’ve said he has flat-out lied to the American public. How do you respond to that?
“I’m not much for rhetoric as you know. These things are resolved at the negotiating table. I don’t think because you disagree with somebody it’s appropriate to call anyone a liar. We all made an agreement that we were going to work through the mediation process because we thought it was the fastest and fairest way to get to a Collective Bargaining Agreement. We need to get back there, get away from the rhetoric and get to an agreement.”
The players also say they felt disrespected. Did you at any point during the federal mediation get that sense through either the mediator or in your personal conversations with anyone across the table? That they just felt that they weren’t listened to in many ways and that your last offer came late after very little face-to-face bargaining, and that’s part of the reason why they hit the decertified button, Commissioner?
“I couldn’t disagree more. We all agreed to make a commitment to the mediation process. A lot of that mediation process is you sit and you wait. You’re in rooms by yourself, you’re in rooms with the players and negotiations are going on, and sometimes you’re just sitting and waiting for negotiations to happen. We’re at the instruction of the mediator. They are the ones who determine, as professionals, what are the right steps to take, when are the right times to have meetings, and I think everyone did a very professional job, both the players and the owners, and the negotiators in representing their parties, their interest and listening to one another.
“I think that’s why we made some progress over the last couple of weeks. The proposal that was made on Friday was a culmination of not only the period of time we were in mediation, but discussions that happened outside of that process over the last several months. You want to make sure that when people walk away from mediation that they understand what they’re walking away from, and that’s one of the things the mediator told us right from the beginning. I think the owners put together a very thorough, fair proposal that the players should really take serious consideration over, and I hope they will.”
Would you go back to mediation immediately? If you were called tonight, would you clear your schedule? How soon could something like this get restarted again?
“With all due respect, I couldn’t get off this show fast enough to get to mediation [laughing]. We didn’t push away from the table. We were still at the table when they walked out on mediation. So for us to go back to mediation, you call me and I’ll be there. It’s a decision the mediator has to make, but we would certainly be there, and I expect we will be there.”
Have you had any contact with the trade association, or former players’ association, other than just legal letters? Any discussion about potentially trying to put this, for the lack of a better phrase, genie back in the bottle?
“There’s unfortunately been very limited contact. I think we’re in a period right now where the litigators and the litigation strategy and, as you know I proudly say I’m not a lawyer, but that litigation strategy is ongoing. That will have to play out for the next couple weeks. But I’ve said repeatedly that this will come back to negotiations, and the sooner that happens, the sooner we’ll all get that resolved.”
So April 6, you believe, is another flashpoint? Would you view it as another possible spurring on a negotiating sort of a threshold? Or do you think that you need to see what happens on April 6 first before something else might happen to push the two sides together?
“I don’t think it’s a negotiating threshold, I think it’s a litigation threshold. I think it’s something that, again, they’ve chosen to pursue this strategy. The sooner we can get back to the table and negotiate, the better off we’re going to be. And get out of the courtrooms, get out of the litigation and get back to the tables and get through to mediation.”