NFL players union decertifies
By Barry Wilner, AP Pro Football Writer
Anger and disappointment were the predominant emotions throughout the football world and beyond after the NFL players' union decertified Friday, hours before the expiration of their collective bargaining agreement with the league.
The impasse could lead to NFL owners locking out the players. Ten players, including star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, filed antitrust lawsuits Friday to prevent a lockout.
"It's a sad day for football," said free agent offensive lineman Damien Woody, who played the last three seasons with the Jets.
"I'm sad that it had to come to his. As players, we didn't want this, but we felt like it was the only option we had. We didn't opt out of the CBA two years go. The owners did. Now, it has become a situation that we have to leave it to the lawyers and courts to hopefully bring this to a resolution that is best for everybody."
Hall of Famer Mike Ditka saw the stalemate as selfish, fearing retired players will be hurt the most if the NFL shuts down. "What this is about is the people in the game, the owners and the players," said the former Bears tight end and, later, Chicago's coach. "That's all they care about."
As for talks breaking off, he added: "I think it's wrong. I don't see any reason for that to happen. ... I am surprised and I'm disappointed. I think fans are losers more than anybody."
Tennessee defensive end Jason Babin, a free agent after a Pro Bowl season, warned not to expect players to break ranks and abandon each other. That happened in the last work stoppage 24 years ago, when dozens of players crossed picket lines and the players' strike failed.
"It's a lot different than it was in 1987. There's not going to be guys bagging groceries," he said. "I mean, we clued in people to save money this year, saving every other check. I think the majority of guys took that seriously and understood how important that was.
"On top of that, we've been preparing for this for years, putting money away in different programs we have. It's not going to be as big a shock to the system as it was in 1987."
Groups representing American workers and U.S. businesses also weighed in, taking their expected positions.
"Working people stand shoulder to shoulder with the players and their right to protect themselves and their families through antitrust laws that prohibit illegal and greedy corporate behavior," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.
Meanwhile, U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior vice president Randel K. Johnson, whose organization represents the interests of more than 3 million businesses, said that "gaming the labor laws and the antitrust laws offers a potentially disastrous model for labor-management relations in this country and raises serious questions of labor policy."
Senate Commerce Committee chairman Jay Rockefeller wondered why a $9 billion business couldn't reach an agreement on splitting such hefty revenues.
"I think I speak for every fan by saying that I am disappointed that it came to this," Rockefeller said. "I hope both parties can find a way to come back to the bargaining table and resolve their differences. As I've said before -- and still believe -- transparency and good faith negotiations should be able to solve this stalemate and avoid imposing collateral damage on innocent Americans whose economic livelihoods depend on professional football."
Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, co-chairman of the NFL owners' labor committee, urged everyone to remain positive and patient.
"This is a time for our fans not to be discouraged," Richardson said. "No anger and friction between the players and the teams. It has been actually a real learning experience for all of us. In due course, we'll have an agreement."
Buffalo Bills safety and -- until Friday -- player representative, George Wilson, made a similar appeal for calm.
"Fans, players, everybody needs to take a deep breath and take it one day at a time. The season doesn't start until September," he said. "If we get to July, August and September and start losing games, then I can understand people getting emotional. But it's March. Take a deep breath."
Yet if there was any doubt that business as usual would be disrupted, it was quickly wiped away in an e-mail the Tennessee Titans sent local reporters late Friday afternoon.
It alerted them that they will not have access to the media workroom or the rest of the building for reporting -- or even the parking lots outside of team headquarters -- with the collective bargaining agreement expiring. The Titans also warned against doing TV live shots on their property.