I'm taking a break on the player analysis to write about a topic that is saddening and frustrating; the damaged relationship between the NFL and NFLPA. Before we begin, let me rehash on a little bit of their background.
Roger Goodell worked in the NFL for many years after writing the NFL office and every team letters seeking an internship. He was promoted through the ranks until he became the COO and Executive Vice President of the NFL, serving as second-in-charge to Paul Tagliabue. When Tagliabue announced his decision to retire, many thought Goodell was the easy choice for the next commissioner, but he faced more competition than expected as Gregg Levy was able to garner a significant amount of votes himself. Upon being voted to be the NFL's Commissioner, Goodell made it a point to take a more strict approach on player discipline. After all, the NFL had many problems with high profile arrests of NFL players and they faced some embarrassing moments. Chris Henry and Adam "Pacman" Jones were among the first players to face harsh penalties under the new NFL Personal Conduct Policy. Goodell also would make it a point to improve player safety, altering rules over the years in hopes of preventing injuries.
DeMaurice Smith was elected as NFLPA President after Gene Upshaw passed away. Unlikely Goodell, Smith wasn't the heavy favorite for the position. Troy Vincent was a very popular choice along among many players. While many liked Smith because he was a lawyer that had experience in litigation, and the NFL players new they had CBA negotiations they had to endure, many others thought Vincent was the better choice as he was a former player and had more inherent interest in the NFL. Many disliked Smith because he was not only never a player, but he was never affiliated with the NFL. Some doubted he truly had the interests of players at heart. Smith would end up bringing his lawyer attitude with him as NFLPA President.
Tagliabue and Upshaw were loved by many, but some players disliked Upshaw because they thought he was too giving to Tagliabue and didn't take enough of a hardline approach. Goodell and Smith are far less favored than their predecessors, though the NFL owners do come to Goodell's defense often and they rarely criticize him -- at least publicly. Among fans though, both of these men have embarrassing approval ratings.
Goodell's strict approach wasn't initially criticized by fans, but as fines increased on players and they became vocal against Goodell, fans hopped on board against Goodell. Of course, unpopular altering of rules made it easy for fans to become more vocal. Many of the rule changes he made were unpopular and many now compare the NFL to touch football or flag football. It doesn't help that Goodell failed to have the relationship and respect of the NFL players his predecessor enjoyed. He wasn't very charismatic with the players and he didn't garner a favorable reputation when he made his introductory trips to NFL clubs. Being that he never really took an initial positive step with the players, it was only a matter of time until the harsher penalties on players caused strife between him and the players. When the negotiations between the NFL and NFLPA over the CBA became heated, it just made it very easy to jump against Goodell and the NFL when fans knew there was a very real threat of a lockout or player strike.
Smith also gained an unfavorable opinions during the CBA negotiations. Smith was very public in lambasting the NFL over issues and took an approach usually reserved for politics; mudslinging at the NFL in hopes of trying to get a better deal for his players. While fans thought of owners of being greedy and looking to stuff their wallets, Smith didn't do the players any favors with his public comments against the NFL. During a recession, it was also easy to think of the players in the same light as the owners as they took their complaints and made them public. Smith also took a hardline approach during negotiations, bringing out his inner lawyer, and that approach clearly had a negative impact with Goodell and the NFL owners. Again, some players didn't think Smith truly had the best interest of the players in mind. Smith is now being criticized for "rushing" the new CBA through approval as many players now view the CBA as a poor agreement because of the amount of power Goodell retains in player discipline.
When the new CBA was signed, many were relieved, especially when it was discovered labor peace would last for 10 years. Unfortunately, the ink barely dried before the poor relations between the NFL and NFLPA became public once again. While most times in sports offer periods of peace between CBA negotiations between the league and the player unions, the NFL and NFLPA left the boxing ring, but they left the gloves on and are brawling in the streets. The NFL and NFLPA are still at odds over what is viewed as the NFLPA's delay in allowing HGH testing. The NFLPA is still taking every opportunity to strike at the NFL and criticize Goodell and now is actually involved in lawsuits against the NFL. This public strife that continues to exist between the NFL and NFLPA only damages both sides. There will be no winners if this fight continues. Simply put, Goodell and Smith need to learn how to work next to each other. If nothing else, they need to at least learn not to take their constant bickering and putting it in the media spotlight. Smith needs to ease his hardline approach and lose his attack-first lawyer mentality and Goodell needs to find a way to garner the respect of the NFL players and the NFLPA, even if it means he has to make a few concessions.
There's only one positive aspect to this story; fans are lucky there is no opt out clause in the new CBA. The NFL and NFLPA will have to live with each other until 2021, even if Goodell and Smith have to be handcuffed to each other and locked in a closet.