FOX Sports Exclusive
Boycott talk, labor fight bad for NFL draft
The NFL isn't conducting business as usual.
The same should go for the upcoming college draft.
The selection process will be held April 28-30 even during the current work stoppage because of rules in the previous collective bargaining agreement.
But if the NFL were wise, it would shelve its annual Radio City Music Hall production and announce the picks in a less elaborate fashion, even at the cost of diminished television ratings. And if the NFL Players Association wanted to avoid being accused of using high-profile prospects as pawns in a CBA chess match, it wouldn't stage a rival draft event provided the NFL also agrees to curtail the dog-and-pony show.
Not that we should expect either headstrong group to back down after almost three weeks of federal mediation failed to yield a labor pact or hope for a quick settlement. The league locked out its players Friday once the NFLPA decertified as a union after the collapse of labor talks.
An NFL spokesman told FOXSports.com last weekend the league had "no plans to change" its draft format. That means 15-17 players projected to be chosen in the first three rounds, along with their families, will have the chance for an all-expense-paid trip to New York City for the draft and the trappings that come with it (nice dinners, sightseeing tours, charity work, youth clinics, etc.).
ESPN reported the NFLPA has recommended that invited prospects decline NFL invitations and, instead, attend its function. The NFLPA didn't immediately respond to a FOXSports.com email asking for a response. But on his Twitter account, NFLPA executive George Atallah wrote Tuesday that his group "is not asking anyone to 'boycott' anything. NFL Draft in particular."
"The NFL Draft is special," Atallah continued. "Players and their families will be in NYC. It just maybe different. We will provide details when we can."
This has the makings for an even bigger mess than the CBA negotiations.
The NFL's own draft gala is destined to become a public relations disaster. Picture the Wisconsin capitol with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the role of state Gov. Scott Walker.
Expect a sizable crew of NFL players protesting the lockouts in midtown Manhattan drawing attention away from the draft. The thousands of fans inside Radio City Music Hall can make an even bigger impact. Steamed by the mind-boggling inability of the NFL and NFLPA to equitably split almost $10 billion in annual revenue, Goodell will face the brunt of public outrage. He will assuredly be booed, cursed and embarrassed by derogatory chants when announcing the first-round picks.
The NFL shouldn't risk exposing its leader to such abuse.
There are other ugly nuances. The NFL won't be able to use current players on site for interviews like in years past. Invited legends might hesitate to become involved.
Even the prospects who want to attend might be discouraged from doing so by agents seeking to support the NFLPA or from NFL veterans who might be their future teammates. Think anyone drafted by New Orleans, New England or Indianapolis wants to potentially offend Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning as those three quarterbacks sue the NFL for alleged antitrust violations?
The draft already was becoming a battleground for player loyalties even before the lockout. I stood dumbfounded in a hotel lobby before last April's event when watching NFL and NFLPA representatives woo prospects to their competing draft parties. An NFLPA draft-day event would raise the stakes to a whole other level.
Those players who did attend will probably have a memorable experience. But it won't be the same as the one the NFL provides. Nothing can re-create the same emotion — ecstasy, tears, relief — that comes when a player emerges from the "green room," walks across the stage and receives a hug and handshake from Goodell.
That's the most unfortunate part about this.
What should be the crowning moment in a young player's football career will be overshadowed by labor strife. Just like non-NFL and NFLPA workers who derive some of their income from the NFL season, top prospects are being unfairly caught in the crossfire.
The best solution is for the NFL and NFLPA to cancel draft activities in New York City. Advise players to throw their own draft parties at home or another venue. Grant the NFL and NFLPA access for their competing draft coverage.
Otherwise, the NFL draft in its current form has all the trappings of a prime-time reality show — except nobody leaves as a winner.