Steinberg: Timing is everything

Writing a column on the final negotiation process for the NFL collective bargaining agreement on Friday for the Sunday paper may be an act of extreme recklessness, given the roller coaster of events occurring hourly. But as they say, no guts, no glory.

So how does a deal agonizingly close to completion become unhinged at the end? I've said before that closely monitoring sports negotiations is like watching the process of sausage being made. You may love the final product but will be driven to distraction by seeing the bloody preparations.

DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players Assn. and Commissioner Roger Goodell and their negotiating teams have spent countless hours together, understand each other implicitly and reached a set of understandings earlier this week. But that is a far cry from having thoroughly prepared their respective constituencies for the reality of signing a 10-year deal.

Team owners and players are an especially strong-willed and opinionated group to unify. It reminds me of our old family joke that if there are six Jewish guests sitting around a table, there will undoubtedly be 10 opinions expressed.

Timing is everything in deal-making and the agendas of each side didn't meet the expectations of the other. The owners had a league meeting Thursday in Atlanta with the expectation that they would be ratifying a new CBA. Friday all of football attended the funeral of Myra Kraft, the beloved wife of Patriots owner Bob Kraft, so they went ahead on Thursday with a vote and public pronouncement that football facilities would be open Saturday and the league season would begin Wednesday.

This caught the players off guard. They were expecting to be able to conduct an orderly process in Washington of discussing the deal point by point. And so they felt pressured by the owners to rush to deal-making, and they pushed back.

Now I have said for the last year this deal would never occur until training camp and the season was imminent, but that football would have a normal season and never threaten training camp, preseason and a full schedule.

There needed to be more thought put into whether a recertification process for the NFLPA would be necessary to ratify the new CBA, and how that timing would affect the end of negotiations.

There were also unresolved points regarding workman's compensation, the cessation of player lawsuits against the league, and whether there would be an opt-out at some point in an extraordinarily lengthy 10-year term. This was the first time that the "no comment zone" that both sides had created — so as not to alienate the public — was broken.

These negotiations and acrimonious exchanges had largely been shielded from the public so that no permanent alienation of the fans would occur. Players and owners had kept their thoughts private so that the specter of millionaires vs. billionaires fighting over a gold mine was not rubbed in the face of fans.

But the screen behind which the negotiations were being held was dramatically breached for the first time with owners declaring "peace is at hand" and players saying "not so fast." It reminded me of a time I was negotiating for an All-Pro offensive tackle who was late to training camp by two weeks. I called him with the great news that the team had accepted our rather outrageous proposal. His response was, "I don't want the deal."

"But they accepted our proposal, we told them what it would take to sign you and they said yes," I said.

His response: "I gave you specific instructions not to agree to a deal until I got out of at least three weeks of training camp had passed."

Timing is everything.

This deal will work out some time this week. There will be football, but the managing of expectations and timetables is an extremely precarious business.


I attended the awards ceremony of the Orange County Skateboarding League in Huntington Beach on Thursday night.

It was a joyful and exuberant event, filled with enthusiastic young skateboarders, their parents and coaches. Katrina Foley and the coaches and volunteers have done a splendid job of creating a league and structure for young skaters.

Along with athletic competition, they have provided a real incentive for well-rounded athletes, emphasizing community service and academic achievement.

It seems more young people are involved in skating today than Little League. This paradigm shift toward action sports offers a terrific opportunity to take a group of perceived "outsiders" in a rebel sport and channel this energy in positive directions.

Skateboarding is here to stay and supporting activities like the OCSL goes a long way toward bridging the generation gap much closer.

I first became aware of this phenomenon while attending a Boom Boom Jam event at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas organized by Tony Hawk. They had the most talented skaters performing in huge half pipes.

BMX riders soared above the crowd, making breathtaking leaps. Meanwhile, Gwen Stefani and Social Distortion were performing live. It was a three-ring circus of excitement. It sold out the arena and there was an electrifying environment.

Earlier, I watched long lines of young skaters lined up for autographs with Hawk and other heroes. That experience and attending the event in Orange County held by my friends, the Maloof Brothers, convinced me of the burgeoning popularity of action sports.

Let's get behind this new young group of gifted and innovative athletes.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or

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