'Beauty Shop': What's Really Behind The NFL Lockout?

The NFL lockout and the academic careers of college basketball players are two topics under discussion in Tell Me More's regular "Beauty Shop" conversation. Host Michel Martin talks sports with Susan T. Spencer, former Philadelphia Eagles general manager and minority leader, Jemele Hill, ESPN.com columnist and reporter and Sally Jenkins, Washington Post columnist and writer.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now it's time for the Beauty Shop, where we tackle stories that we think could use a woman's touch. And today we have with us three big names in the world of sports who all happen to be women and they're offering their views on the top sports stories of the day.

And joining us in the Beauty Shop, Susan Tose Spencer. She's an entrepreneur. She's the former acting general manager and a minority owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. Jemele Hill is a columnist and reporter for ESPN.com. And Sally Jenkins is an author, a columnist and feature writer for The Washington Post. I welcome you all. Thank you all so much for joining us.

Ms. SUSAN TOSE SPENCER (Entrepreneur): Thank you.

Ms. JEMELE HILL (ESPN.com): Thank you.

Ms. SALLY JENKINS (Washington Post): Yeah, thank you.

MARTIN: Now, I'm going to start with the NFL player lockout, and there's a court case that will determine - could determine whether the lockout continues. Today, lawyers from the now decertified pro football's players union argued to a federal judge that she should impose a preliminary injunction that would effectively lift the player lockout. Now, we don't have time to go into all the legal arguments.

But I do want to ask you three - Jemele, I'll start with you. Do you think that there's going to be a season or not?

Ms. HILL: I do. I've contended that from the beginning. I felt like even though it would be contentious, it would probably last a while, it would be some legal wrangling. The court stuff is not necessarily shocking, in my opinion, since both parties seem to be prepared to kind of go to the mat. But when it's all said and done, I have a very hard time still believing that they're willing to cost themselves a season or miss games or making out from an incredible amount of money that, you know, both parties seem to be making, more so the owners than the players.

MARTIN: Well, you know, I'm going to ask - our next two - our other two guests have some strong feelings about who is most at fault here. So I'm going to -Jemele, I'm going to ask you this first. And one of the reasons I'm asking is we started the program talking about the federal budget, and there's a big, you know, negotiation on that. And both sides are pointing the finger at the other, they're saying(ph), you know, which one is being most intransigent.

So, Jemele, I'm going to ask you if you think - in this dispute, who do you think is most at fault?

Ms. HILL: I think it's the owners, because realize they were the ones that opted out of this agreement because they wanted to simply make more money. It wasn't that the money that they were making wasn't good enough, that it wasn't substantial, they just wanted to make more. And I think some of their arguments for wanting to blow up this collective bargaining agreement that they had agreed to are just, quite frankly, an insult to most fans and even the players' intelligence.

I mean, they basically want more money to build stadiums, stadiums in which many of are publicly funded anyway. They pretty much were saying, we're not making enough money, these billions of dollars. That's not enough. We need to make more. And we want the players to assume more risk and to essentially make up for some of our individual bad decision-making. And I think it's terrible.

And if you - any fan that takes time to study the issues to see what the players want versus what the owners want, I think you will see a just completely different stance on both. I mean the owners were prepared for a lockout. That's what they were doing.

MARTIN: OK. Hold on. You know what? Since this is football, I think we should pile on, right? So, Susan, we are going to hear from you. But Sally, I'm going to go to you first because you've been writing some blistering columns about this. One of them that you wrote in March, this is just the lead and it even gets better from here. You say: If the NFL owners want to fight over money they can have one. The minute they announced they couldn't live on their cut of $9.3 billion in revenue and locked out the players threatening to cancel next season, they revealed their feudal lord natures; they overreached. Instead of worrying about player salaries, they should worry about fans who are sick of being treated like serfs.

Really, you should come out of your shell, Sally.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I think that you should learn to express yourself. Why do you say that?

Ms. JENKINS: Well, because the NFL owners have been treating the fans like the fans owe them a wheat levy or something. I mean this is not feudal France. The fans have choices in how to spend their money and the owners have not considered for a moment the effect on the communities in which they play, financially. By the partial loss or complete loss of an NFL season it would have a huge economic impact on the bottom line of the tax revenues and communities in which these teams play, whether you're talking about Detroit or Indianapolis or New Jersey. The owners are beholden to the communities for huge tax breaks, huge amounts of public funding, and yet they seem completely un-cognizant of that fact. They're strictly worried about their own bottom line.

MARTIN: Susan, I'm putting my helmet on while I wait for you to respond.

Ms. SPENCER: You better put your helmet on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SPENCER: I wish they were in the same room with me, I'd take them apart.

MARTIN: Susan, you were a former acting general manager. You were actually at -and, in fact, I think you're the only woman ever to have been a general manager of an NFL team. Do I have that right?

Ms. SPENCER: That's true. And probably after this discussion you'll know why.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And you were at the negotiating table during the strike, the 1982 strike. So what's your take on this?

Ms. SPENCER: Yes, I was.

MARTIN: So you heard what the ladies say, that it's the owners. They're just being greed-heads.

Ms. SPENCER: Well, I think you have to look at this in a different context. Once you take it out of the context of business, everything goes on its head. This is a business for owners, and clearly they've invested - some of them -millions and millions of dollars to buy their franchises. Most recently, the most recent purchases were by billionaires, because today the teams, many of them in the large markets, are worth an awful lot of money. So they want some kind of return on their investment and I don't think that's asking a lot from them, as a business transaction, if we take the emotion of everybody else outside of it.

The other thing is that it's clear to me that the way it's portrayed in the press is not exactly the way things really are. The owners have a huge, huge in-house budget for all kinds of community outreach.

When I was at the Eagles in 1982 and I was running the team, we had 20 people that were in ancillary personnel. There's now 200 in each club, and of those 200 there's a lot of publicity, there's a huge community outreach, there's a charitable organization that's paid for and funded by the teams. So it's much more than just getting them in on the field and getting them off the field.

MARTIN: OK, but people ask why...

Ms. SPENCER: It's a huge infrastructure.

MARTIN: You're saying $9 billion...

Ms. JENKINS: Can I jump in here?

MARTIN: OK, that's Sally?

Ms. JENKINS: Yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah, go ahead.

Ms. JENKINS: I mean the NFL is like no other American business. It's very convenient for owners to call it a business when they want to be treated like any other business but they get breaks from the government and they get antitrust exemptions. Name me another American business in which it is legal to put a cap on the income of its employees and prohibit them from free movement in terms of finding other jobs?

Ms. SPENCER: Well, then American...

Ms. JENKINS: Name me an American business that operates that way.

Ms. SPENCER: The truth of the matter is that in the cap issue that really is what the players wanted. They wanted to have a cap because they wanted to make sure that the owners would reach that cap. Without the cap the owners don't have to go that high. So it's basically a forced cap. This is the number that you can get to and spend. And what they found in 2010, when there was no cap and there was no floor, that the owners didn't reach the cap, they were short of it by 20 million, and they didn't reach the floor.

Ms. JENKINS: Well...

Ms. SPENCER: So in this case it's really something that's beneficial of the players not them.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Sally.

Ms. JENKINS: So the cap was mutually agreed on in a collective bargaining agreement which the owners are now basically opting out of.

Ms. SPENCER: Well...

Ms. JENKINS: And so, you know, one of the reasons the players are...

Ms. SPENCER: Well, the collective bargaining agreement...

Ms. JENKINS: The players are fight...

Ms. SPENCER: ...was in its termination year. It was in its final years so, you know, it already terminated. It would have terminated early March. They extended it a couple of weeks, so...

MARTIN: Susan, could you answer Sally's point, though?

Ms. SPENCER: Sure.

MARTIN: She's arguing that the owners are really asking for a guaranteed income, and that's something that no other business gets and they already have significant breaks from the government. And she's also arguing that the taxpayers have already contributed mightily. The owners really don't have a right to lock them out. Could you answer that question? What do you think?

Ms. SPENCER: Well, in terms of a guaranteed pay there is no guaranteed pay. Actually, the small market teams, and those are more prevalent than the large market teams and they're the ones that are really hurting more because they're in cities like Detroit and Buffalo, and in old stadiums, not new stadiums in most of them and they're not building new stadiums because they probably can't afford to. Right now there is no funding from any local state or other organization that's going to fund these building of stadiums, so that's not going to happen.

Secondly, what you have in this situation is you have a mishmash of really apples and oranges of what we're talking about. Instead of trying to identify one particular situation, we're trying to put together all these different issues and it's very difficult to unravel it very simply with simple answers.

MARTIN: OK. So final thought though on this question before we move on to basketball. You know, Jemele says she thinks that there is going to be a season after all. Sally, what you think?

Ms. JENKINS: I think the owners are prepared to lose at least three to four games of next season. I think there will be eventually a season but I think it will be abbreviated in some form. I think the owners have set a number in their heads collectively of what they're prepared to give up in order to try to break up the current bargaining process.

MARTIN: And Susan, final thought from you on this question.

Ms. SPENCER: Well, there will be a...

MARTIN: In fact, I must say, you're being remarkably tame here. I mean in previous interviews I've heard you say that DeMaurice Smith, who is head of the NFL Players Union, should be fired and that, you know, it's all his fault. So I don't know. Maybe you haven't had your coffee yet, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SPENCER: No, I've had my coffee. I think, Michel, in terms of this discussion as to whether the owners are at fault for not, it's really clear that I shouldn't be determining that. I'm not an owner anymore and I try to stay more objective. I think the players are being ill-represented in their strategy and I think that is not productive of what's happening. That's very clear to me that the moves that Smith made appear to be anti-strategic. Instead of helping the players I think he's hurting them.

And depending on the outcome of this hearing today as to whether that injunction is granted or not and whether the players end up back at the NLRB because it was in fact a sham settlement negotiation and a deep certification, if that happens, then his strategy has failed and he's wasted a lot time.

Ms. JENKINS: Well, I have jump in here.

MARTIN: Go ahead, Sally.

Ms. JENKINS: I think the owners have totally overreached. I think it's a mighty act of hubris. I think the owners are going to wind up big time losers on this deal. I think that basically the collective bargaining agreement that they had was - the way they should've viewed it was a magical invisible cloak, and the minute it was removed it revealed that they're in serious violation of antitrust, and I think they're going to wind up losing and I bet the owners fold.

MARTIN: OK. If you're just joining us, this is...

Ms. SPENCER: Well, I'm going to buy you dinner.

MARTIN: All right. Hold on. OK. Well, we want in on that dinner, right Jemele.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are having a visit to the Beauty Shop with Jemele Hill of ESPN.com, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, and former NFL team general manager and minority owner Susan Spencer. She was an owner of the Philadelphia Eagles.

We're talking about the NFL lockout. But now we want to talk about last night's college championship basketball game, the Final Two for the women. By all accounts they far outshined the men's game of the night before, and this is how it turned out. Here it is.

(Soundbite of women's college championship basketball)

Unidentified Man: 76 to 70, and Texas A&M is the 2011 champions. And for the first time in school history the Aggies are the champs.

MARTIN: So Jemele, so by all accounts, I don't know if you agree. Maybe I'm prejudice. I thought the men's game was - the women's game was so superior to the men's game, the men's final. But the question I had for you is first of all do you agree? And second of all, do you think though that these, the two number one seeds were eliminated. Do you think that this game was in fact played by the two best teams in the country?

Ms. HILL: I don't think you necessarily have to always compare the men's game to the women's in order to get validation for the women's game. But in this particular case, this particular year, I think we saw the evolution or the lack of growth in one game and the tremendous growth in the other. And by that I mean I think the men's game, those two teams that met was kind of reflective of the things that had been happening in that sport with the not only just the one-and-dones, the overall talent drain, I think it finally showed up in the championship game and to some degree throughout the tournament.

I know there was a lot of great upsets but I think you also saw where there's a sense of mediocrity in men's college basketball. And women's college basketball, I thought the fact that Texas A&M won the national championship is a testament to how that game is growing. I don't think you needed this is the year where it was obvious to me you didn't need Tennessee or UConn in the final or in the Final Four, even though, you know, UConn, they were to carry the entire event. I mean that was a remarkable game. We saw some new faces, the emergence of Skylar Diggins, as well as Danielle Adams.

And I think that it really shows that eventually even if you have a period of domination, which UConn and Tennessee have both had their periods, the other schools will begin to catch up and it can be just as an exciting and brilliant game as it's always been. So I thought for the women this was the year the entire tournament to some degree outshone the men.

MARTIN: OK. Well, you heard her chastise me for comparing the two games. So point taken, Jemele. Point taken.

Sally, what about you? What do you think?

Ms. JENKINS: Well, I actually watched the UConn men win five straight games in the Big East tournament. I thought they played some marvelous basketball throughout the postseason. I thought it was too bad that that final game both teams didn't shoot very well and so now everybody's sort of flying off the handle a little bit and saying oh, men's basketball is no good, something's wrong with it. I saw some marvelous basketball throughout the tournament.

Now, the women's game was absolutely terrific. The shooting percentages were great off the charts. Danielle Adams threw up 30 points. Skylar Diggins was a major new star in the women's game. The quality of play was really high. But it was really interesting. If you think about it, Texas A&M lost to top-seeded Baylor three times in the regular season. Notre Dame lost to top-seeded UConn three times in the regular season. These were two very, very battle-tested teams that ended up benefiting from some losses in the regular season. It was much easier in the end to be the underdog with the chip on your shoulder when they got to the Final Four than it was to be the overwhelming favorites, and I thought that was the really emotional dynamic that played out on the floor and it made for some really great basketball.

MARTIN: And finally, we have...

Ms. JENKINS: I don't want to shame the men's tournament.

MARTIN: Go ahead. Mm-hmm.

Ms. JENKINS: The men's tournament was just great. It really was. I mean the final game was no fun but everything up to that point I thought was marvelous.

MARTIN: I thought it was great too. Susan, did you watch? Did you watch? Yeah?

Ms. SPENCER: I did. The one thing, I can look at it from a different perspective because I'm a football head and not a basketball head. But for me one of the things that I am concerned about is women's professional basketball. And the more we get visibility in a positive way in basketball that's college oriented, the more likely we're going to have an opportunity to drive that business and drive those basketball teams and hopefully they'll be successful.

MARTIN: New business opportunity for you Susan, perhaps. Is there a general managementship in your future?

Ms. SPENCER: I'm looking. I'm looking.

MARTIN: OK. Susan Spencer is a lawyer and an entrepreneur. She's the former acting general manager and minority leader owner of the Philadelphia Eagles. She joined us from member station KNPR in Las Vegas. Jemele Hill is a reporter for ESPN.com. She joined us from Florida. And Sally Jenkins is an author, columnist and feature writer for the Washington Post. And she joined us from our studios in New York.

Ladies, thank you all so much.

Ms. SPENCER: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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