As NFL lockout drags on, who's the bad guy?
NFL fans want their football. Some believe the owners tried to give it back to them, only to have the players balk.
When owners approved a tentative labor deal on Thursday, fans, like NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell thought it was "time to get back to football." Not quite. Players have yet to ratify the agreement, and that has surprised and enraged many.
Former pro quarterback Jim Miller hosted a four-hour show Friday on SiriusXM NFL Radio and estimated at least 60 percent of the callers were angry with the players.
"People are somewhat shocked the players haven't approved this deal as well," Miller said. "I think there is definite anger (toward the players). The callers feel everything was negotiated and this deal should be done.
"But when the information gets out there that the players are just trying to make sure it is a fair deal, maybe some of the fans will temper that anger. Frustration certainly has set in, though."
So was Friday's nonvote by the players a public relations gaffe, or prudent strategy?
"For the players to come out and say that they were just handed a deal yesterday, and they didn't know what was in it, I think that's a bunch of junk," said Rick Kaplan, an investment manager in Houston who's been a Texans season ticket holder since 2002, the team's inaugural year. "If they've been negotiating, then they should know 99 percent of what's in the deal. For all this hoopla coming out, like, 'Oh, we haven't seen it,' that's just showmanship on the players' side."
Or, according to Ken Crippen of Warminster, Pa., a Bills fans since 1969:
"Let me get this straight, players. You were able to plan decertification well in advance, but were unable to plan recertification in advance? I'm not buying it. They just want to miss a few weeks of training camp."
But those who make a living molding images and dealing with crisis management say there's no reason to come down on the NFLPA for taking time to make sure the 10-year deal is a fair one.
"I don't think it's a real big PR hit for the players, and I don't think they are being portrayed as bad guys, nor the owners as the good guys," said John Totaro, president of New York-based Totaro Communications. "I think that the fans are disgusted with the total situation and just want football to start on time. They see the whole situation as bad.
"The constant perception that has been prevalent throughout the lockout is billionaire owners having a dispute with millionaire players. The average person cannot relate to that and just wants the football season to be played."
And it could get worse, according to Pete Webb, a Denver-based public relations specialist.
"(Although) it's hard to engender sympathy for management, the longer the players drag this out, the more public relations muck they're into," Webb said. "If fans aren't going to get their fall appetite of football, it's not only the fans that are going to be the losers but the players' images are going to take a hit."
Social media have blown up with negative comments directed at the players, which prompted some defensive tweets. And Cardinals star receiver Larry Fitzgerald, using good, old fashioned talk, had this to say: "I heard one of the guys from the PA say, 'The NFL is a big machine. They can get the media machine spinning and turn public opinion, and what you hear is not always factual.' We've got to wait for the real facts to come out."
Those facts are simple, according to Rick Burton, former chief marketing officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee and a sports marketing professor at Syracuse University. What the players are doing, he said, is being thorough, regardless of the immediate backlash.
"The players don't need to recover from anything. The players need to get it right," Burton said. "They are sacrificing their long-term health to play this great game and to earn their livelihoods.
"At the end of the day, the average fan probably identifies more with a player, their heroes, than with an owner. If the players want a few more days, the public will go with that. The public could be thinking, 'You players better get this right because you're stuck with this deal for a long time and you guys make a lot more than we do.' "
AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton and Sports Writers Richard Rosenblatt, Chris Duncan, John Wawrow and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this story.