Today is a big day for the owners, players and fans of the NFL – the lawsuit levied by the NFL players to remove the lockout order will begin to be heard by U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson. No matter the immediate outcome, most everyone is hopeful that today’s ruling (should it actually come out today) and any subsequent rulings will eventually lead to the owners and players returning to the bargaining table and hammering out some sort of agreement. (I won’t call it a CBA because as of now, there is no “collective” with which to bargain!) People are still hopeful that the season is not in jeopardy, neither in full nor even partially.
For now though, the owners and players remain cool at best, and angry/hurt at worst. It was inevitable that this fight got personal – football is the lifeblood for the owners and players, and for many, has been an integral part of their lives since their Pop Warner days. And it got personal torward the end of negotiations – players’ wives had labor induced early so as to ensure medical coverage, Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson openly and derisively questioned QB Peyton Manning’s ability to understand a simple profit and loss statement, and there was the bizarre ending to formal negotiations that precipitated the union decertification and owner lockout.
Team facilities, such as the Colts’ practice facility on West 56th Street in Indianapolis, are now quiet when they should just start coming to life with the sound of coaches calling out drills, and footballs whirring through the air. So what happens when the parties finally do get back together, work out a deal, and the players return to the practice field? So many talk about the NFL “being a business,” and that “this is business, not personal.” But the truth is that the impact of the strained negotiations and the lockout is that many players will remain angry with their owners. They may begrudgingly return to work, not wanting to benefit the owners with their presence and ability. They may harbor resentment, which could rear its head at an inopportune time later in the season.
Here’s how the Colts in particular could address this issue: book Tony Dungy to come talk to the team – reserve his time today in anticipation of a return to normal activities. I have been less than supportive of Dungy’s continued self-association with the team, from his confidence that the Colts would beat the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, to his exposure of Manning’s and the team’s inner workings on prime-time, national television. But when it comes to urging people to forgive others, Dungy’s abilities are unparalleled and would be well-placed.
Coach Jim Caldwell is certainly capable of delivering a strong message as well. Paul Kuharsky praises Caldwell’s ability to “deliver a consistent message, set expectations and hold a team together.” But sometimes a leader recognizes that their own message resonates better when it comes from a respected third party. Dungy is now sufficiently removed from the team’s management, but also close enough to many of the players, to be particularly effective in this role.