In the NFL, players have to talk. Owners don’t.

The 2014 Super Bowl is over, and some of the names that were repeatedly bounced our way may never be heard again. A year from now, will you know who Malcolm Smith is, or Marshawn Lynch, or Wes Welker, or Demaryius Thomas or Kam Chancellor? Unless you’re a serious NFL football fan, you probably won’t know. Some of these players are rather extroverted and quite verbal; others prefer to be silent. Each will likely fade from our memories as we become more removed from the game.

The availability of players to the media can allow some players to talk sense, others to indulge in clichés, some to bloviate, and still others to want to run and hide. All NFL players must abide by the standard player contract of the NFL. That includes:

1) Paragraph 4. Publicity and NFLPA Group Licensing Program

Player will cooperate with the news media, and will participate upon request in reasonable activities to promote the Club and the League.

That rule was enforced just prior to the Super Bowl against one of the names above, Marshawn Lynch. He is a powerful and speedy running back for the Seattle Seahawks.

As reported on the NFL’s own website:

Marshawn Lynch spent the regular season ducking reporters. The league fined the Seattle Seahawks running back $50,000 for his personal closed-door policy.

As the days counted down to game day, Lynch was a beneficiary of an on-line rally of fans to pay the sum. Lynch then decided to give the fans’ money to charity. Next, the NFL decided to double the fine if Lynch did not speak with the press prior to the Super Bowl. Lynch then gave two short interviews, each about six or seven minutes, far short of the required one hour. Now we have the uncertainty of what will happen next. Regardless of the outcome, what is clear is that the League has the power to fine players for failure to meet with media.

In glaring contrast, there is no rule stating that team owners need to meet with the press. This means that they need not communicate with team fans. This is not an incidental issue, because in all thirty-two markets of the NFL, the fans have made considerable financial contributions to the owners’ success. Almost every stadium is built with tax-payer money from the community. The teams are frequently free from paying full freight on local property, sales, or earnings taxes. Unlike many businesses, particularly small businesses, the NFL teams are beneficently showered with taxpayer dollars rather than taxpayer obligations of successful businesses.

Stan Kroenke, a billionaire from the Walton family, is the primary owner of the St. Louis Rams football team. Just recently, Kroenke purchased sixty acres of land in the Inglewood section of Los Angeles. Why would that be of interest to St. Louis fans? Because nineteen years ago the Rams migrated to St. Louis after having a rich history in Los Angeles. Since L.A. is a much more populous metropolitan area than St. Louis, there has been a constant desire to move the Rams back to Los Angeles and enjoy the benefits of a much larger market.

Well, how does Stan Kroenke feel about this? Up until February 1, we had no idea. He was “Silent Stan,” and he had no obligation to open up. He was free from the mandate of Section 1, Paragraph 4 of the standard contract for NFL players.

Finally, the day before the Super Bowl, Kroenke said:

There’s a track record… I’ve always stepped up for pro football in St. Louis. And I’m stepping up one more time. I’m born and raised in Missouri. I’ve been a Missourian for 60 years. People in our state know me. People know I can be trusted. People know I am an honorable guy.

I’m going to attempt to do everything that I can to keep the Rams in St. Louis, just as I did everything that I could to bring the team to St. Louis in 1995. I believe my actions speak for themselves.

Most Kroenke observers have said to be wary of his words. Many see him as brilliant; operating his billions of land and sports teams assets as he would pieces in a chess game. Looking at just one move tells you little; you have to see the macro plan, and with Kroenke, there are no words to be spoken about that. Even when he says something that appears to be straight-forward such as his Feb. 1 remarks, his actions are not congruent with the meaning of his words.

Kroenke sometimes speaks in riddles; it’s hard to understand him. Most NFL players talk in clichés; you’ve heard them all. The players are obligated to talk, but not to say anything. The owners are free not to talk. While we don’t need straightforward and relevant words from Marshawn Lynch, we do need them from Stan Kroenke. He’s playing a game that has enormous loopholes for the owners and actually very few for the players. Every week of the season, players put their reputations on the line as they perform on the field. Owners like Kroenke can go AWOL as long as they wish. Perhaps the NFL rules should require owners to honestly share their thoughts with fans on an ongoing basis.

Arthur Lieber Arthur Lieber (308 Posts)

Since 1969, Arthur Lieber has been teaching and working in non-profit educational organizations. His focus has been on promoting critical, creative, and enjoyable learning for students in informal settings. In the 2010 mid-term elections, he was the Democratic nominee for US Congress from Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.