Losing the Battle for Hearts and Minds

Two things happened yesterday that didn’t help the NFLPA’s case with fans (and yes, there still is an NFLPA, they just aren’t a union).

First, it was announced that the players are considering a separate event for draftees. It seems like pressure from other players means there’s a good chance this scheme will succeed in drawing players away from the draft.

I think this is a terrible plan, but not for the reasons most people think.

  • I reject the notion that draftees would be losing a moment they’ve been waiting for all their life.  They’ve been waiting for the big contract and to play on Sunday’s.  Shaking Goodell’s hand is not the pinnacle. 
  • I reject the notion that draftees should feel animosity at the union for supporting a rookie cap. They also pushed 3 year free agency.  It’s the owners that want to not only cap the rookies, but control them for five years with terrible compensation.
  • I think it’s utterly insane that the NFL wants to make a show out of selecting players, only to INSTANTLY lock them out. The moment a player is selected, he is forbidden from having any contact with the drafting team, and it’s the TEAMS that have decided this.

I understand why the NFLPA would think this is a good idea. I understand why draftees would participate in alternate events. 

It’s still a terrible idea.

Up until now, fans haven’t had much to complain about. However, if you start messing with people’s draft coverage, they’ll get pissy.  I personally don’t watch the draft.  I HATE BLATHER. I can’t stand to hear ‘experts’ yak on about players who have never played a down of NFL football.  I turn it on about five picks before Indy selects.  I don’t care about the pageantry or the players shaking hands.

Lots of people do, however.

By taking the high road, and talking about the insanity of the league parading players out to the public while locking them out, the NFLPA would gain more traction in the PR fight.  Fans are going to watch the official coverage of the draft no matter what.  The NFLPA can’t hope to dent those ratings. Instead, coach all draftees to publicly embarrass the league. The first words out of EVERY draftees mouth when he shakes Goodell’s hand should be, “Why won’t you let me start preparing for the season?  Why can’t I join my team and read the play book?”.  It would be a hilarious and humiliating bloodbath for Goodell.  It would be high drama that still allows everyone their precious coverage and wouldn’t upset fans, but rather it would drive home the point:

The owners are the ones standing in the way of football.

Don’t anger the fans, NFLPA.  Let the draftees show up.  Just tell them what to say and keep them on message.  It’ll be a bigger win than a different event ever would.

The second PR fail yesterday came from the mouth of Adrian Peterson, who used slave imagery to describe the owners’ treatment.  While I hate crushing people for metaphors, I know a lot of people found his words offensive.  Chris Schneidler is a long time reader and had some interesting points. Like me, Chris is on the players’ side in this mess. Chris is in the USMC and took exception to the ‘slave auction’ imagery:

If I’m De Smith, I have Adrian Peterson issue an apology ASAP.

I believe this is not just a legal battle (now), but also a public relations battle.  You and I believe that the owners will eventually lose.  However, “eventually” can be a long, long time.  It’s like they say, “the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”  The owners’ hope for victory is that the players cave before the case winds its way through court.  I submit to you that the players are more likely to cave if public opinion starts turning against them.

And, there is no quicker way to turn the public against you than have a highly paid athlete compare his situation to slavery.

I’m in the Marine Corps stationed in Quantico, and listening to LaVar Arrington (who has a radio show in DC) defend Peterson’s comments started to infuriate me.  ”The NFL Draft Combine is like a meat market.  You’re up there in your skivvies, and people are measuring you…”  I was like, “Uh, I did that in my medical exams before I
joined.”  And, I can be told to pack my trash on a moment’s notice and get sent to Afghanistan.  That’s my reward, not millions of dollars.

Of course, I’m intellectually aware that 1) I am not a 1 in 100,000 level talent, and that’s why I don’t get paid millions of dollars, and 2) It’s not like I didn’t know what I was getting into.  But, that’s a digression–the point is that I got angry at Peterson, even though I’m on his side here.  I’d guess that really hurts with an indifferent or unsympathetic audience

Chris makes some excellent observations.  Listen, personally, I don’t get bent out of shape when people compare football to war or slavery or Nazis or the Federal Reserve.  The nature of language is to make comparisons between dissimilar things. I think we play ‘word police’ with each other too much. However, I recognize that I’m in the minority when it comes to that. 

Having said that, Chris is dead on the money.  Peterson’s words were foolish. and they’ll do nothing but alienate fans.  He needs not to issue a statement, but give a heartfelt explanation of what he was trying to say. Slavery imagery is powerful and polarizing.  Doug Farrar, who did the interview, originally removed the language because he didn’t feel it represented what Peterson was getting at.  Some journalists might hate that, others might find it stupid, but I admired him for it.  Still Peterson’s words are loose, so now he should apologize and explain what he was trying to say using less inflammatory vocabulary.

Yesterday was a bad day for the NFLPA, when it comes to winning the battle for hearts and minds.  If their statements and plans rankle their supporters, they can’t possibly be going over well with the general populace.