BY EVAN WEINER
About two decades ago, a tall man with an identifiable nasal twang was holding court at Gallagher's Steak House one afternoon as he lifted a martini with a shaking hand to his mouth. The septuagenarian with a bad wig was standing near the slabs of meat that were hanging at the steak house and in a crescendo was complaining about the world of sports. The empty room began filling up as the man droned.
"Sports is out of whack," said the man with the familiar voice in a loudish way as he fumbled to take a sip of his martini. He was disgusted with the industry that he first entered in the 1950s as Willie Mays’ advisor.
Last week was yet another week of vindication for the man who was despised by sportswriters for telling it like it is.
The three -- make that about five -- events of the week of April 25-April 30, had nothing to do with actual games. There was the draft in a locked-out-then-open-for-business-then-locked-out National Football League.
There was Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson moving as much earth as he could to try and keep the city's National Basketball Association team in team in town despite the fact that the unemployment level had hit 12 percent in his region. At the same time he was rounding up $10 million in marketing partnership for the owners of the NBA Kings, the Maloof brothers, Johnson was cutting workers at the city's police and fire departments and school administrators were trying to figure out whether they can keep sports going in Sacramento public schools.
East of Sacramento on US 50, Lake Tahoe interests were beginning a plan to bring the 2022 Winter Olympics to the area and were beginning the campaign to try and sell the idea to locals as a job creator and a moneymaker like the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, which cost Canadians a fortune in taxpayer subsidies.
Just another week in the toy store of life, as sportswriters like to refer to their little world.
The National Football League lockout is being played out in a various courtrooms and has political overtones whether people want to believe it or not. The players scored a big victory when Susan Richard Nelson, a federal judge for the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, lifted the lockout last Monday.
Judge Nelson was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama, a Democrat who is believed to be labor friendly. Judge Nelson, in her opinion, wrote that she was convinced of the players’ argument that the lockout was irreparably harming their collective careers.
The irony here is that Judge Nelson fell into line with National Football League Players Association thinking of 1982 -- Money Now -- and her ruling did the retired, discarded players no favors. The present players are the ones who have to help out the disabled former players -- the discarded ones -- who have no health benefits because the NFLPA never got around to getting players long-time health care and have to depend on social security and Medicare for health coverage. Judge Nelson worried about the present day players but nowhere is there a players association worry for retired players who are hurting.
The discarded players are wondering whether one of their own, former Giants defensive lineman George Martin, can lobby the NFLPA or whether they have to have a group to pressure the NFLPA to do something about their financial/health benefits problems.
The owners and players don't plan to get back to the bargaining table until May 16. More time has elapsed for the former players who need real help, not government assistance for their pre-existing medical conditions.
The NFL won Game 2 in this best-of-who-knows playoff series when the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals granted the league a temporary stay of Judge Nelson's order with two judges -- both Bush appointees -- agreeing with the league, while a Clinton appointee sided with the players. The 8th circuit in St. Louis is thought to be more business friendly.
The two lead negotiators in the talks are very political. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is the son of Charles Goodell, a Republican, who represented Western New York in the House of Representatives and replaced the slain Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 in the Senate. Goodell's father-in-law, Sam Skinner, was Chief of Staff for President George H. W. Bush.
NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith was a member of President Obama's transitional team.
In a sense it is the Democrats versus the Republicans. Labor versus business.