In his second annual state-of-the-league news conference, pro football’s commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, criticized the NFL Players Assn. Friday and strongly supported the U.S. war effort in the Middle East.
After suggesting that Super Bowl XXV would probably be rescheduled for a week from Sunday in the unlikely event of a postponement this week, Tagliabue turned his attention to the players’ association.
"(The NFL) has the fairest and most efficient (system) in team sports . . . and all they do is attack it,” he said of the players, who have been unable to get a collective bargaining agreement with the NFL’s 28 club owners for the last five years.
He was responding to NFLPA predictions that pro football’s annual player draft will end after 1992 when the players’ association approval expires.
“I don’t lie awake worrying about NFLPA predictions,” Tagliabue said sarcastically. “In 1977, they told the court that the draft is legal. They’ll have to explain that.”
He was referring to the draft sanction made by the players’ association in return for other benefits, including a dues checkoff. The owners have since abandoned the checkoff. But the draft remains legal for the next two years.
“The players boast that they’re now getting 55% to 60% of (the league’s) gross receipts,” Tagliabue said. “NBA players get 46%, and in baseball it’s 38% to 40%.
“The (members) of the four teams in last week’s NFL playoffs made over $100 million for playing football in 1991.
“I’d say our system works. It works for the players, for the fans and for the teams. Over the years, the (NFLPA) has made many predictions, and they’re all wrong.”
Tagliabue didn’t mention the players’ two chief concerns--partial free agency and fairer salary distribution. They say that too much of the league’s gross goes into multimillion-dollar contracts for untried rookies, too much goes to marginal Plan B acquisitions, and not enough goes to some young veterans.
Several of the athletes on Sunday’s Super Bowl teams are playing on $80,000 annual contracts in a season when the NFL salary average is $400,000.
In a 50-minute exchange with the questioners in a crowd of several hundred reporters, Tagliabue made these other statements:
--On Super Bowl Sunday: “It’s the winter version of the Fourth of July.”
--On war news during Sunday’s game: “I understand that ABC will add a minute or two for news between quarters.”
--On possible game interruptions for late reports: “They have a news obligation, and we respect that.”
--On a possible point of no-return when the game would have to be played whether televised or not: “There is no specific point. We’ll be in constant touch (with ABC) as events unfold in the Middle East.”
--On Tagliabue’s contacts with President Bush: "(Bush cabinet secretary) Jack Kemp is here for the game--he was a Bills quarterback before Super Bowl I. We’ve been going through him to the White House and other concerned (Washington) agencies. We’re having continuing discussions with all. The message from all is the same: ‘Play the game.’ ”
--On whether a postponed game would be played Monday, Tuesday or later: “I assume it would be the following Sunday.”
--On expansion and realignment: “They’re being (reviewed).”
--On whether the NFL would exonerate any players who tested positive because of questionable drug-testing methods: “There’s no reason to wipe the slate clean. I don’t accept the premise that testing methods were questionable. As with any new, ambitious, difficult program, there were some learning (mistakes).”
--On the legality of the hit by San Francisco 49er tackle Jim Burt on New York Giant quarterback Jeff Hostetler last Sunday: “I reviewed it with (chief umpire) Art McNally, and it was a perfectly legal hit. (Burt) bounced off a blocker into Hostetler’s knee.”
--On whether the New England Patriots’ players have paid up in the Lisa Olson case: “The fines have not been collected (because) the players have asked for a hearing. It’s scheduled for February.”
--On plans to fine Buffalo Coach Marv Levy for missing a news conference this week: “It will be handled (next month). It is important that coaches be available to the press. I was disturbed, but it wasn’t a major part of my day. It wasn’t the biggest event we’ve had to deal with this week.”
--On instant replay: “The Redskin-Eagle fumble play--which took a touchdown away from the Eagles--was a picture-perfect application of instant replay. There are two concerns: Too-frequent interruptions, and reviews of marginal (plays). There may be some (changes).”
--On the newly adopted annual officiating meeting: “We’ll meet with (referee) Jerry Seeman, (New Orleans President) Jim Finks and eight officials in Florida next month to talk about all aspects of officiating, including instant replay (before the owners meet in Hawaii in March to vote on changes).”
--On the 1993 Super Bowl: “At the (March) meeting, I’ll recommend that the game be relocated from Arizona (to Los Angeles or San Diego). That was the understanding we had with the (Phoenix sponsors) when the game was approved. They understood that we’d withdraw (in case of) ongoing controversy.
“When (Arizona was approved), there was an assumption that it would have a Martin Luther King holiday. (And if not), there was a likelihood that the game would be (removed).
“We are withdrawing from controversy, not from Arizona. We’ll probably still have (some of) our meetings there. But our object is to play the Super Bowl free of controversy. I’d call it normal-course business. We’re not in the politics business. We’re in the business of presenting sports events.”