People on both sides of the NFL's labor dispute have good things to say about Giants owner John Mara. He's the rare non-polarizing figure in the lockout. Representatives from the players' side have told me multiple times that they felt respected by Mara (where they haven't always felt that way about other owners, such as Jerry Richardson or Jerry Jones), and that when he was in the room there was an atmosphere they believed could facilitate progress.
Today, Mara posted a letter on Giants.com entitled "Time to Get Back to Football." It's a long letter, effectively re-stating the owners' oft-stated case that (a) the league's economic system is out of whack, (b) the players walked away from the bargaining table March 11 and (c) the path to peace is through collective bargaining and not litigation. There's a bunch of stuff about how the players want to get rid of the draft, the salary cap and other things, which probably isn't true but which the players made fair game by putting it in their antitrust suit. But basically, Mara is making the same old owners' point that they hate the fact that this dispute is in court rather than at the collective bargaining table.
"We locked out the players this year only after they walked away from negotiations and sued," Mara writes. "A strike or lockout is a last resort to force a resolution. Our end-game has always been a balanced collective bargaining agreement that helps us grow and improve the game."
This is the league's party line -- that they never intended to lock out the players and that it was the players who blew up negotiations when they decertified the union and filed suit March 11. But it's not honest. The players believe the NFL has been planning to lock them out for more than two years. They have evidence, which has been seen by judges in the TV money case that's still pending in U.S. District Court, that proves this.
There is little doubt that the league's strategy all along was a lockout, which is why the owners engaged in no serious talks until a couple of weeks before that March 11 deadline. They can act aghast and upset that the players walked away and sued, and that act plays well among a public that's inclined to disdain lawsuits, but they're not being 100 percent honest if they say the lockout was a "last resort" they imposed only after the decertification. The players decertified and sued because they knew they were about to be locked out and they believed that was the only way they could fend off the lockout.
But the owners and the league are smart to put Mara out front on this. He's universally liked and respected. So when he's the one spouting the party line, people might be inclined to think that's not what they're getting. Or that the NFL's party line has more merit than that of the players. But in the end, this is just more of the same rhetoric. And whether the owners like it or not, nothing's going to change on any of this until all of the court cases are won and lost and each side takes stock of how much leverage it has left.