NFLPA Union Chief DeMaurice Smith speaks to fans
Mewelde Moore, Starks, Ryan Clark with Union leaders.
Fans sign petition to stop possible lockout in 2011.
On Tuesday evening, DeMaurice Smith, the Executive Director of the NFL Players Association, brought the "One Team Tour" tailgate party to Pittsburgh. The NFLPA is currently visiting select cities to thank city leaders, union members, and above all the fans for their support of NFL players, and what better place to thank the league's greatest fans than at the SCM's own Family hangout, the North Shore Saloon.
The evening started with former player and current NFLPA legal counsel Joe Briggs welcoming everybody to the North Shore, and he set the tone of the evening by first and foremost thanking the local unions and fans for their support in the ongoing labor negotiations with the owners. he then brought up local leaders of the Steelworkers and AFL/CIO unions, who reiterated their support for their fellow union brethren. Mr. Briggs then gave the microphone to Mr. DeMaurice Smith, the head of the player's union.
"We are working hard to get a new deal done, one that is fair for both sides. The owners and the players." Smith told the crowd. "The fan support we receive at functions such as this have been overwhelming, and we want to show the owner's that a lockout is not in anybody's best interest."
The NFLPA did not show up to this event alone either, they came with plenty of Steelers as backup. Max Starks, Ryan Clark, Charlie Batch, Mewelde Moore, Keyaron Fox, along with former Steelers Robin Cole, Nolan Harrison and Jeff Hartings were on hand to not only lend their support to the union, but also to mingle with the fans and thank them personally for their support. Both on the field and off.
When asked about the ongoing labor dispute, Max Starks had a much broader approach to the subject. "The owners need to realize that locking out the players will have a much bigger impact on football cities than just affecting the players." Starks told me. "In this economy, and cities such as Pittsburgh already hurting financially, locking out the players and taking football off the field would hurt local business such as this one (North Shore Saloon). Sports bars and restaurants will be hurt on Sundays with no games. The stadium won't be open, so all of the Heinz Field workers would be out. A lockout would affect hundreds of hard working people. Not just the players."
While the overall message for the evening was the serious topic of labor strife and a possible lockout by the owners, the players and NFLPA representatives spent the majority of the evening enjoying light hearted conversations with the many fans that turned out to this event. Smiles everywhere, high fives from players to fans, posing for pictures, it appeared that the players were having just as much fun as the fans were.
What happens next in the negotiations between the NFLPA and the owners is yet to be decided, but the union and the players made it perfectly clear tonight that they will do everything in their power to get a new collective bargaining agreement signed with the owners and avoid a lockout. The deadline for getting a deal done is quickly approaching, but the players and union are hopeful one will get done.
The owners know the players position on a lockout, and with events such as this they are realizing the fans are standing behind the players. It's up to the owners now to bring a fair deal to the table and the players to accept. All the while the fans can do nothing but keep their fingers crossed that there will still be NFL football in 2011.