As far as Kevin Mawae’s concerned, the lockout isn’t working.
Yes, football is on hold as the NFL owners and players wait for a June 3 court hearing in front of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
But Mawae, the president of the decertified NFL Players Association and the former Tennessee Titans Pro Bowl center, said the league’s hopes of busting the union haven’t worked.
“Our players have drawn closer to one another than ever before,” Mawae said. “We are united and we are strong. ... If they open the doors [Wednesday], I guarantee you we will have about 90 percent of our players working out at the facilities. If we open the day after Labor Day, our players will be prepared to play. And that is where we stand as a players’ association.”
Mawae spoke to nearly 100 local civic and business leaders at the Exchange Club of Nashville’s weekly meeting at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday. He touched on various points related to the lockout, including the history of the NFLPA, what led up to the collective bargaining agreement negotiations and the subsequent lockout.
He also mixed humor into his nearly 40-minute long speech. But he remained strong in his point that the players haven’t been given a fair shake by the owners.
He said the NFLPA’s decision to decertify — which sparked the lockout by the owners — on March 11 was a “legal tactical move.” He says that maneuver was made to “keep our players on the field and to file an injunction to stop the lockout we had to file it as a class.”
Mawae added that the talks surrounding the collective bargaining went slowly and that the owners delayed the process.
“Sixteen days of mediation [two months ago] and not one time did the owners have somebody at the table that could ink a deal that day,” Mawae said. “Every time I had a player, an attorney or my executive director at the table ready to cut a deal at any moment.”
He said the talks stopped moving forward when the owners failed to “show their books” and disclose why “you need another billion dollars.”
“When you ask for their books, they say it is ‘none of your business,’” Mawae said. “… I don’t know how much [the owners] are spending on yourself versus to actually how much is overhead for your players’ cost. When we are asked to pick up overhead costs for a team facility, I think that is pretty presumptuous that the players should have to pay to rent their lockers out when they go to work. It would be like asking you to ask your employees to drop 25 cents in the bucket every time they turn the light switch on. It is an overhead cost the owners should incur. Now, if that cost is directly related to the players because the salary cap has gone extremely too high, then we would be willing to work with it. But they are not willing to show us where they are spending their money.”
Mawae couldn’t say for certain when the lockout would end, but he did say he thought football would be played in 2011. If not, he said, the city of Nashville would miss out on approximately $140 million that normally is generated during an NFL season.
“Now we have owners that are locking players out of publicly built stadiums and that is a problem for me and that is a problem for you guys,” Mawae, a Nashville resident, said. “I spend taxes in this state. I spend taxes in this city and we have an empty building that is going to be over here next year in 2011 if we don’t play football.”
Mawae also briefly touched on former Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who resigned in January. His reign as head coach for 16 years came to an end after a season that featured a falling out with quarterback Vince Young, who is expected to be released or traded when the lockout concludes.
“When you are an owner, it is your team. When it is your business, you do what you want to do but you do hire people to run the business because you trust these people,” Mawae said. “I think what happened was there was a clear problem between who was asked to make the decision and who was actually making the decisions.”
As for Young, Mawae said the Titans made the right decision by going separate ways.
“I liked Vince. I played with him. He was a fun guy to play with,” Mawae said. “But there is a difference between being an athlete and being a professional. And I think it is time for them to move onto somebody who is professional. It is unfortunate that Jeff had to take the bullet as well.”