Lockout Continues, Rookie's Livelihood Hangs In Balance

This week, a federal appeals court upheld the NFL lockout imposed on football players. Host Michel Martin speaks with University of Pennsylvania law professor Kenneth Shropshire and rookie player Rashad Carmichael about the ongoing labor negotiations.

MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, we'll head to the Beauty Shop, where the ladies get to weigh in on several of the stories that many of us have been talking about this week, including the news that former California governor and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger has acknowledged fathering a child with his family's former housekeeper.

We'll also talk about the arrest of the head of the International Monetary Fund, the French economist Dominique Strauss-Kahn, on charges that he raped a hotel housekeeper. He's just resigned in the wake of those charges. That's coming up. And we have an international panel to talk about this, by the way. We have a commentator from Paris who will be joining us.

But first, we turn to a story in sports that has football fans and a nearly $10 billion industry on edge: the NFL lockout. Football players and team owners have been fighting a heated battle over how to divide up that money. On Monday, a federal appeals court sided with the owners, giving them permission for now to continue to lockout the players.

That means the players are out of work, and the fall season could be wiped out if no deal is reached. Here's what NFL general counsel Jeff Pash had to say after the court ruling.

JEFF PASH: We have an opportunity to resolve this matter and get the game back on the field, and that really should be our exclusive focus, not litigation, not stays and junctions, things like that. That's not going to solve anything.

MARTIN: And the court has ordered the two sides to continue negotiating and will rule again in June, but for now, we're interested in how the lockout is affecting those whose pro football careers were about to begin. And, of course, we're also interested in the prospects who are actually having a season. We're joined now by Rashad Carmichael. He's a football player who was drafted earlier this year by the Houston, Texas, but has been unable to begin playing. And he joins us now on the line from his home in Waldorf, Maryland. Rashad, thanks so much for joining us.

RASHAD CARMICHAEL: Oh, yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.

MARTIN: Also with us is Kenneth Shropshire. He's a professor of legal studies at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School. He specializes in sports law, and he's written many books on the subject, including "The Business of Sports," "The Sports Franchise Game." We should also mention that he served as an arbitrator for the NFL Players Association and consulted for the NFL in the past, but he's not currently involved in the lockout negotiations on either side. And he's here with us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Welcome to you. Thank you for joining us.

KENNETH SHROPSHIRE: Thank you.

MARTIN: Now, Mr. Carmichael, let me start with you. Could you just take us back to when you found out that you had been drafted by the Texans? Could you just tell us what that was like?

CARMICHAEL: Yes, ma'am. It was a, you know, it was good time, you know, a great experience for me, for my family. I actually didn't watch any of the draft. You know, if you watch it, you know, it puts extra stress on you and, you know, everybody calling and asking questions and, you know, wondering why you didn't get picked. And it's like, you know, I don't know. So I tried to, you know, I stayed away from it.

And I was at Towson University in Baltimore at my brother's spring game. He plays running back up there. And I was just chilling. I was watching the game, and I seen an 832 area code, you know, pop up on my phone. And, you know, I kind of felt like, you know, I was hoping this was the call. And it happened to be, you know, the Houston Texans and, you know, Coach Kubiak. And he says, you know, how would you like to be a Houston Texan?

And, you know, I was, like, coach, you know, I would love it. I would love to be a Houston Texan, you know. I've been waiting on this call since Thursday. You know, it was a Saturday at this time, you know, when the fourth round had came around.

And I walked away and talked to the coaches on the phone for maybe about 10 minutes. And, you know, they just let me know about the lockout and, you know, they're really not too sure, you know, how long it's going to go on. And, you know, pretty much, this was going to be the last conversation we were going to have. And it's kind of, you know, up to me and, you know, the other, you know, other guys, you know, coming into the league to, you know, get yourself ready at this point. And...

MARTIN: Hm. So tell me about that. That's going - that's kind of - that was going to be my next question. So on the one hand, they're saying you had that momentary high. Yes, you've been drafted. But then they're saying you've got to get yourself ready. But I assume that that means you've got to stay in shape.

CARMICHAEL: Right.

MARTIN: But that's not an easy question, is it? Because if you get injured, what happens? Do you have insurance?

CARMICHAEL: Right. Yeah. I mean, see, that's the tricky part of it. At this time, you know, the insurance - well, I do, just because, you know, my father was in the military. So I kind of still can, you know, I have that to fall back on. But, you know, if I didn't, you know, it would be tough for me right now. And another problem is just, you know, finding, you know, a good place to work out that's, you know, close and you're getting everything taken care of and, you know, especially guys have a life, too.

You know, you have - you know, for me, I have my mom and my brothers and they either have to, you know, try to take care of, you know, their home. So this kind of puts you in a tough situation. But, you know, I definitely feel like it'll all work out. So, you know, at this point, you know, it's just working out and, you know, playing football, just getting yourself ready, same thing, you know, I've been doing my whole life. So, you know, I know how to do that. So...

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

CARMICHAEL: But, you know, not having a playbook and not being around a team kind of, you know, affected a little bit dealing with the chemistry, because, you know, that's important on the field. But like I say, I think it all will work out.

MARTIN: Just to clarify, for those aren't familiar with your story - and I just should mention here that you had been profiled in the Washington Post over the weekend, that your dad was in the military, and you unfortunately - and I'm so sorry for your loss - you know, lost him, I believe to a heart attack.

CARMICHAEL: Yes, ma'am.

MARTIN: And your family's been, you know, dealing with that. So we're sorry for your loss. If you're just...

CARMICHAEL: Oh, no, no.

MARTIN: Yeah, in fact - well, it's tough. It's a tough thing for anybody. If you're just joining us you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're talking about the NFL lockout. It continues. We're speaking with Rashad Carmichael. He's been drafted, but can't yet play. He's been drafted by the Houston Texans. Joining us now, Professor Kenneth Shropshire. He's of the University of Pennsylvania. Talking about players like Rashad, what is he supposed to do right now? How do they handle a situation like that?

SHROPSHIRE: Well, it is a tough time, but they've really got to do just what Rashad's talking about: stay focused, keep working out. And they have representatives that are at these various courts and at these various mediations trying to work this out and trying to get the season underway.

MARTIN: But what are the legal issues at stake, here? Can you help us understand that?

SHROPSHIRE: Sure. It's there are a couple different issues. So this whole idea of staying and stopping the lockout, the real issue behind it is whether or not the labor laws should be applying and whether or not the owners should be able to use the same kinds of tools that the players can use. You know, players, we know, can strike. And so far, labor law says that's fine. You can do whatever you want to do there. But the idea of owners being able to lockout players, there's some question whether or not they can do that, once there's no longer a union.

Because one of the things that is happened is the union has decertified. And this court has said that a lockout is a viable tool for owners to use, even when there's not a union. So that's really the new news that came about on Monday.

MARTIN: Well, if the union has decertified, who then is negotiating on behalf of the players?

SHROPSHIRE: Well, now they're a trade association. So, just nomenclature has changed. So the same parties are involved. And at the end, if there is a deal reached, then there has to be an agreement by the class - it would no longer be union, but the class of players that represent the association.

MARTIN: Can you interpret something that the general counsel just passed? He said that in that clip that he just played...

SHROPSHIRE: Sure.

MARTIN: ...he said that this - that our focus should be resolving the matter and getting the game back on the field, but not litigation. But isn't litigation the only way they can get back on the field, or is there another vehicle by which the - this issue could be resolved?

SHROPSHIRE: At any point, the players and the owners can come to an agreement. And that agreement could trump anything else the courts are doing. So it's not going to happen today. It's not going to happen tomorrow, but it is probably going to happen. I think Pash is correct, that there's going to be some kind of deal struck between the players and the owners, and it's not going to be the courts that will decide this. The courts are applying a lot of pressure. The courts are kind of setting up these different points of leverage, but it's really going to be a negotiation between ownership and the players.

MARTIN: A new poll by Suffolk University shows a 32 percent of those surveyed blame the owners for the lockout, while 19 percent blame the players. Does public opinion matter here?

SHROPSHIRE: Well, it does. I mean - and for both sides, for when the game comes back. Is there going to be any fallout? Is there going to be any loss in revenue? Is there going to be any fans stepping away from the game? We saw some of that with Major League Baseball years ago, when they had their labor problems. We saw that when we saw the NHL shut down for about a year. So the idea that you want to keep PR high, you want to keep fans in touch with the game, you want to keep them happy with you, it's important.

SHROPSHIRE: But in terms of the negotiation itself, the idea of who supportive of the players, who's supportive of the owners really doesn't make that much difference. It's for the game itself.

MARTIN: And, Kent, do you mind if I ask you what is your - I'm going to ask you just to tell your prediction on whether, in fact, there will be a season after all. And maybe Rashad should cover his ears at this point. I don't know. I don't want his motivation to be affected. But do you think there will be a season after all?

SHROPSHIRE: I have consistently said this. Too much money. The game is too successful now. There's not a problem with the game. You think in most labor strife there's some kind of problem going on, there's something they're trying to fix. All they're trying to fix here is how to divide the money up properly. That's a problem that can be resolved.

I mean, the distance was initially a billion dollars. Now, reportedly, it's $185 million in difference. So that's a huge gap that's being closed. So I will be surprised - I've been wrong before - I will be surprised if the season does not get underway on time, maybe with some issues, but it's very difficult to believe there won't be a season.

MARTIN: Now, Rashad, the coaches have told you the organization, apart from telling you that they are drafting you, they told you that they can no longer contact you until this matter is resolved. But what about other players? Are any of the other players reaching out to you to say hang in there, give you some guidance about how to proceed in this tricky period?

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. Yes, ma'am, definitely. Well, you know, Virginia Tech, we have Duane Brown down there, plays tackle for the Texans. You know, I was in contact with him. And Xavier Adibi plays linebacker there, you know, also a guy from Virginia Tech. So, you know, as soon as I was drafted, you know, those were the first guys that hit me up and, you know, even invited me down to work out with them and try to, you know, find a place to stay and things like that.

But, you know, like I said, man, I was, like, I'm going to try to take this a little bit at a time and see my mom and my brothers, man, just haven't been home in awhile. Been away at school and training for the combine and Senior Bowls and things like that. So, but, you know, when the time comes, you know, I told them I would definitely take them up on that offer.

MARTIN: And do you feel that you can get mentally ready without the benefit of the whole team environment? You feel you can still do that?

CARMICHAEL: Yes, ma'am, 'cause it still, you know, plays a big role on yourself. Like I said, there's a lot of guys that I'm in contact with that help me out, you know, in my position. For quarterback, Brandon Flowers, DeAngelo Hall, Macho Harris, guys that came out, you know, before me that, you know, constantly hit me up, make sure, you know, working out, you know, sending me tips and, you know, sending me film on them and things like that. So, there's definitely ways to, you know, get yourself ready. So it's kind of on how you approach it.

MARTIN: All right. Well, do you want to take an opportunity to talk a little trash and tell me how you think the Texans are going to do when you finally get back to work?

CARMICHAEL: Oh no, ma'am, I'm not a trash talker. I know one thing, we're going to get hard to work. I'm excited to get to work.

MARTIN: All right. Rashad Carmichael is a football player. He played for Virginia Tech. He was drafted earlier this year for the Houston Texans. He hasn't been able to start because of the NFL lockout, but we are offering a good thought for him. And he joined us on the line from Waldorf, Maryland. Good luck to you, Rashad, we wish you every good thing.

CARMICHAEL: Thank you.

MARTIN: Also with us, Kenneth Shropshire. He's a professor of legal studies at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He's the author of many, many books on sports law and the business of sport. And he joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Professor Shropshire, I thank you so much for joining us.

SHROPSHIRE: Thank you.

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