Gregg Easterbrook is very naive

Though commissioner Roger Goodell just led a collective-bargaining negotiation that resulted in NFL players being showered with money and benefits, according to Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison, Goodell is “a crook” and “the devil.”

That’s from his latest TMQ column and, uh, what? The rest of the lead-in to the column is an argument that the real reason the players don’t like Goodell is that the players simply resent that he has the audacity to enforce rules on safety. But setting that issue aside, Easterbrook’s intimation that the player’s should feel indebted to the Commissioner for having “led a collective-bargaining negotiation that resulted” in their “being showered with money and benefits” is just silly. The media had a difficult time sorting through the many moving parts in the lockout, but this kind of White Hat/Black Hat thinking was extremely defeating. The lockout was very simple: The old deal split revenues 50/50. The owners cancelled that deal because they said their expenses had gone up, and proposed a new deal that, among other things, split revenues closer to 60/40 owners versus players. The players balked, counter-proposed, dissolved their union, and sued, all in support of trying to keep the status quo regarding revenues. Many other issues were discussed, but once it became clear that the owners could potentially face anti-trust damages (though the players’ injunction was defeated), the two sides settled on a revenue split of roughly 53/47 owners/players (there is some wiggle in these numbers, as there was in the old CBA). (The veteran players were also able to get comfortable with less overall revenue for players by lowering the amounts payable to rookies and thus grossing up some of that difference with respect to veterans.) There were other bells and whistles, but that’s basically the story: cold hard capitalism; rough and tumble dealmaking, with high stakes (lots of money to divvy up); and plenty of complexity that reduces, like all big deals, to the bottom line.

But apparently to Easterbrook that kind of real world dealmaking about the split of cold hard cash translates to the squishy and naive idea that the players owe something to Goodell because he deigned to “shower” them with money and benefits. I don’t really care who the good guys or bad guys were in the lockout story. And, as the Social Network teaches us, when you’re talking about a cool billion, from the perspective of the actors right or wrong doesn’t even register; it’s about leverage and a deal they can live with going forward. Indeed, why does anyone care if the players like Goodell? Does Goodell? Maybe he does for pride reasons, but I can’t imagine that’s the case. He’s the hired hand of the owners, and his job is to mete out punishment, protect their investment, and deal with the administrative stuff that both the owners and the players are too busy and disinterested to deal with — other than whatever prestige is involved, Commissioner is not a glamorous job. But it doesn’t have to be: Goodell is paid exceedingly well for his services, and he’s paid in dollars, not in brownie points from the players.

Indeed, Easterbrook should realize that, by signing the CBA, the players did something far more important and meaningful than talk a good game about Goodell being a good guy: By signing the CBA, they acceded power to him to enforce punishments against them. Under the CBA, the players agree to let the Commissioner impose punishments against them by applying rules created by the Commissioner, and if the player doesn’t like the punishment they may appeal the Commissioner’s punishment to the Commissioner, who can decide if the Commissioner acted fairly. So, you know, I think they have a vested interest in ensuring that the Commissioner carries out his job fairly, consistently, and proportionately.

  • Kowshic

    I wonder what brought over this change in Easterbrook’s tone. Didn’t he rail against arbitrary punishments meted out by Godell and said it’s just PR move and not necessarily helping redeuce concussions?

  • Anonymous

    In many ways I think that this post underscores why I often prefer blog posts written by hobbyists to articles written by professional writers. Many bloggers (both you and me included) have jobs where we have to deal with the basic sorts of concepts you deal with in this post, and are comfortable thinking in those terms. On the other hand, writers like Gregg Easterbrook often concern themselves with issues of personality and narrative that make for compelling reading but bear very little relationship to how things work in the world of finance and labor relations. I find the sort of writing that Gregg Easterbrook practices to be immensely frustrating for that reason. It’s fundamentally no different than a sports article that attributes a pitcher’s lower ERA this season than last season to “bearing down more” when statistics show that hitters have a lower average on batted balls in play this season than last, a factor over which he has zero influence.

  • duh9

    Easterbrook is stupid. His articles are terrible. Deadspin always nails him too and they are on the money with it.

  • http://twitter.com/BlackDaleGribbl Dale Gribble

    Easterbrook is just doing his job: he works for ESPN, who has a multi-billion (I think billion and not hundred million) dollar deal with the NFL owners, not the players.  When reading ESPN I assume that everything is written subjectively as to maximize ESPN’s strength and wallet.  So yes, the Easterbrook article is crap.

  • https://plus.google.com/100857546184516732260/posts DrObvious

    Really, you could have stopped at the headline, and you could have been talking about any of his columns, either about football or his other writing. I can’t think of another writer that seems to be so in love with their own MIA intellect.

  • Paul

    I have had some professional experiences with big-time collective bargaining.  It’s like sausage — knowledge of the process ruins your appetite for the product.

    Goodell deserves some credit for herding the egotistical cats we call owners to an endgame… but to thank him? No, just recognize professional negotiating competence as would be expected of a man of his experience and compensation.

  • srp

    Actually, it is a good point that the players chose to trade off due process for more money. If they’d really wanted to have a disciplinary arbitration appeal or something, I’d bet the owners would have gone for it in return for a 54/46 or 55/45 split. So the players said more money was worth more than restraining Goodell; either they don’t think his actions are so egregious or they really, really, were more interested in the incremental dollars. Money vs. working conditions is a very old tradeoff in labor negotiations.

    That said, his arbitrary remaking of the rules on illegal hits was detrimental from a fan perspective. I hate the NFL’s outcome-oriented approach to the rules of the game, especially since their preferred outcome seems to be 1) generate tons of passing statistics, thereby hyping the quarterback position and 2) play up the soap-opera aspects of coach/quarterback relations. We used to have debates about whether Tom Landry’s coaching style prevented Dallas from winning the big one–too complex and unemotional, or imaginative and forward-thinking? Now we have debates about whether Mike Shanahan or Donovan McNabb is a bigger poopyhead. Amazingly, there is actually one thing about the 1970s that was better than today.

  • Bradley Dilger

    I’m no Easterbrook fanboy, but this is just an opening. I don’t think you can just set that aside. His point is that football’s conservative culture, as expressed in players’ resistance to rules changes which make the game seem less tough, is the real source of discord from Harrison et al. I don’t see that Easterbrook makes a claim about the players owing Goodell anything because of the CBA. In fact, arguably, he makes the same point as you do when you write it’s just capitalism and dealmaking. 
    I’ll agree this point could have been made about 100 times less obtusely (and far less verbosely): the owners and thus Goodell aren’t interested in player safety for its own sake, but because changing the game to fit its publics makes good business sense. So  players need to get on board with change, so they can make money too. 

  • Bradley Dilger

    I’m no Easterbrook fanboy, but this is just an opening. I don’t think you can just set that aside. His point is that football’s conservative culture, as expressed in players’ resistance to rules changes which make the game seem less tough, is the real source of discord from Harrison et al. I don’t see that Easterbrook makes a claim about the players owing Goodell anything because of the CBA. In fact, arguably, he makes the same point as you do when you write it’s just capitalism and dealmaking. 
    I’ll agree this point could have been made about 100 times less obtusely (and far less verbosely): the owners and thus Goodell aren’t interested in player safety for its own sake, but because changing the game to fit its publics makes good business sense. So  players need to get on board with change, so they can make money too. 

  • Bradley Dilger

    I’m no Easterbrook fanboy, but this is just an opening. I don’t think you can just set that aside. His point is that football’s conservative culture, as expressed in players’ resistance to rules changes which make the game seem less tough, is the real source of discord from Harrison et al. I don’t see that Easterbrook makes a claim about the players owing Goodell anything because of the CBA. In fact, arguably, he makes the same point as you do when you write it’s just capitalism and dealmaking. 
    I’ll agree this point could have been made about 100 times less obtusely (and far less verbosely): the owners and thus Goodell aren’t interested in player safety for its own sake, but because changing the game to fit its publics makes good business sense. So  players need to get on board with change, so they can make money too.