Eisenberg: Ah, The Sound Of Silence


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Isn't it beautiful?

No headline-hungry pledge from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to work for a dollar if necessary – as if he might go hungry otherwise.

No declaration of "war" from DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFL Players' Association. (Memo to De: A real war contains real bullets, like the ones the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan are facing.)

None of that hot air, thank you. Since the two sides agreed to have a federal mediator intercede last week and then began meeting every day to try to hammer out an agreement, they've had to follow the mediator's order to, well, shut up.

Ah, the sound of silence.

It's music to the ears of anyone hoping for an agreement that doesn't disrupt the NFL much, if at all.

The silence means an adult has entered the room and taken over the proceedings – in this case, George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Remember when you were young and got into a fight with a sibling and a parent walked in? That's what happened when the squabbling players and owners agreed to let Cohen get involved last week.

They were so busy giving death-knell interviews and worrying about public-relations spin that they could barely find time to sit down and negotiate. Amid the mounting drama, such as it was (yawn), they were doing precious little to actually solve their dispute.

Meanwhile, as always, the fans were caught in the middle, caring a lot less about who wins than just seeing an end to the bickering and a guarantee that they could enjoy football on Sundays next fall.

Personally, I've had my doubts all along that the sides were going to let their dispute go that far. Yes, they see things differently on such issues as an 18-game schedule, taking better care of retired players and a wage scale for rookies, but basically, they're just arguing about money. And both sides are making out. Player salaries are way up, and the pie the owners are cutting up stands at $9 billion in annual revenues now.

When both sides are making out, it's hard to imagine them walking off and throwing away the pile of money just sitting on the table in front of them, waiting to be made. People don't do that.

And besides, when you measure this dispute against the worst I have seen in American sports – the 1994 baseball strike that wiped out the World Series – this one just doesn't seem as rancorous.

That one featured the owners trying to introduce a salary cap and pulling such stunts as withholding donations to player pensions, colluding to limit salaries and contemplating using replacement players. There was such acrimony that President Bill Clinton tried to step in and settle things but fled the room within hours, aghast at the level of hostility.

The arrival of a parent couldn't fix that childish squabble. It ended only after the players went to the National Labor Relations Board and received a favorable ruling that held up in court, forcing the owners to give in.

Interestingly, the baseball players and owners also agreed to federal mediation back then, but they only made it through a single three-hour meeting before giving up. They were just too angry.

The current dispute seems tame by comparison, and I like what that portends.

I give the NFL owners and players credit for agreeing to mediation in the first place – a move that means they won't get everything they want – and for adhering to Cohen's demand that they, well, shut up.

We don't know what's going on in the room, but the fact that they've been in there for 27 hours over four days, with more meetings planned, is an excellent sign. They aren't spinning and posturing. They're actually working hard to try to solve their problems before the deadline.

Here's hoping the sound of silence endures until someone steps out of the room and announces an agreement.

John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*

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