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Sports Update: NFL Labor Dispute, Padres Struggle

Audio

Aired 5/10/11

With the season opener a little more than four months away, NFL owners and players are still in disagreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. This leaves many NFL teams like the San Diego Chargers in limbo after completing the NFL draft. In the meantime, there is still Padres baseball to be played. With us to discuss the NFL labor talks, Chargers and the San Diego Padres is North County Times Sports columnist Jay Paris.

Charger fans anxiously wait for a 2011 NFL Season.
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Above: Charger fans anxiously wait for a 2011 NFL Season.

With the season opener a little more than four months away, NFL owners and players are still in disagreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. This leaves many NFL teams like the San Diego Chargers in limbo after completing the NFL draft. In the meantime, there is still Padres baseball to be played. With us to discuss the NFL labor talks, Chargers and the San Diego Padres is North County Times Sports columnist Jay Paris.

Guest

Jay Paris, North County Times Sports Columnist

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. There's almost something wrong about talking football in the early weeks of the ways ball season, but the NFL has been making some big news lately. The on again off again lockout staged by owners and NFL players is on again. Now, everyone is waiting to see what a federal appeals court has to say, and what happens when owner player negotiations resume next week. Here with all the gory details of the NFL labor dispute is my guest, jay Paris, North County times sports columnist. Jay, good morning.

PARIS: Bonjour. How we doing?

CAVANAUGH: I'm doing pretty well, thank you. Now anyone who listened to football news after Osama was killed might think the lockout is over. What happened?

PARIS: You know, the lockout, there's a stay, and June†3rd the eighth circuit court of appeals will rule on that, the NFL is stating that if the lockout is lifted and the players go back to work and start returning to the facilities that all hell will break out because there's no labor agreement in place. And their position is, it would be unfair to some teams where some teams, the more richer teams could sign players and get about their business, which would be an unfair advantage. So you know, everybody's lawyered up here. And it's one appeal after another, and football fans are of the first and tenth variety. They want to have football. And it's really a shame that they can't figure out a way to divvy up a $9†billion pie. It's almost embarrassing. And again, when you have labor difficulties and you have labor strikes and everything's in upheaval like this, it's usually when a balance is doing bad. It's usually when they're putting up going out of business sales or something like that. This league and this enterprise and this multibillion dollar business has never had higher ratings, it has never had higher attendance, it has never been more popular. But the owners in their position is they didn't get a good deal last time, and heck if they're gonna go forward with it.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what I read, jay, was that the owners are looking to have a lodger season. Is that part of these -- is that part of the problem.

PARIS: That's definitely on the table. And it's one of the greatest, weird things about all of this. The NFL ownerships are saying consciously it's all about the player safety. It's all about the player safety. Oh, by the way, do you mind if we add two more games to it in and some people might say, what's two more games? Well, if you have ever been in an NFL locker room after one of those games, and seen guys hooked up to IVs, and seen bones sticking out. It's like walking upon up on a car crash, to put it bluntly. And these gentlemen who sacrifice so much for those 16 games, when they hear about two more of those things, they're limping to the finish line now. So it sends up a big red flag, and whether that's something to be negotiated down the line, or that was a bargaining chip that the owners wanted to play at that particular time, it'll be interesting to see. But it's almost widespread amongst the players that they do not want to play anymore games.

CAVANAUGH: What is the late of the on these labor talks? I read that the negotiations are supposed to rule next week. Is that right?

PARIS: They can be talking and there's certainly no -- nothing barring them from that. I think the key, without a labor agreement, the track this sport runs on, and the rules and the regulations, and the reasons why it is America's most popular sport while base ball may be the past time, football is king because of the popularity of bedding, and the popularity of fantasy leagues, for a number of reasons. But the position is, if the Courts do say football is back, it could paycheck check there would be no rules in place. So not only is the NFL watching this very closely, but so are the other professional sports. These rulings and how all this plays out could leak over to the other sports, and it'll go from there. But there is a noticeable lack of a buzz this off season with the NFL. Now, once September hits and football season rolls around, we're like Pavlov's dog, you know, if it's Sunday at one, we're staring at a big TV somewhere. But the draft came and wept. And usually right now, the players are in minicamps, and the fans were getting to know the new players, and how are they gonna help the team? And where is this guy gonna fit? That's the buoy of sports, and second guess what the teams's gonna do, and which player is gonna go where. And all of that is missing right now. And whether that carries over to the regular season or not, we'll have to see. But the NFL, it's the public relations teams, and few people manipulate the press and the sands better than the NFP. But they've taken a few hits this summer, and every turn, the Court has ruled in the players favor.

CAVANAUGH: Right. NFL commissioner Roger Videll got booed when speaking at the NFL draft. Do you get a sense that the fans are siding with the play ares?

PARIS: I do. And it's the old Billy Nels versus millionaires. Who are you gonna side with? But I think too, the commissioner has to be careful here. He's hired pie the owners to run the league. Let's not forget that. But he is a commissioner of the entire league. He should have the fans' interest as well as the owners' at the forefront of his thought process. I think Roger's a good man, and I think he understands that. But the owners are hard to route for. Let's face it, some of these guys are billionaires over and over and over again, and here they are with every -- well, not everybody, but a lot of the pockets of society are really hurting right now, and here's a guy with a thousand dollar suit and a billion dollar stadium, and all the tax breaks with his hand out some more saying gimme gimme gimme, that's not playing so well. And when you counter that with the players who mile, yes, they do make good money, they're not all millionaires, let's be clear here. But that's a short, short window those gentlemen get to play football. And what they sacrifice with their body parts, you know, it just -- all I -- I always go back to used to have Thursdays alumni day at Chargers. And the older players would come back and talk to the guys. And this guy would walk in with a limp, and that guy would walk in with a finger pointed sideways, and this guy, maybe he's not as clear thought process wise as he should be. So it's a incredible price these players pay, they are well compensated. But I think when you're an average fan sitting at home, you're gonna side with the guy who's running the ball in between the tackles instead of a rich guy in his suite.

CAVANAUGH: Jay Paris, North County times sports columnist. And for a moment, jay, we're gonna leave all that mess behind.

PARIS: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: And talk with football as if it were really happening.

PARIS: All right.

CAVANAUGH: We're talking about the draft picks, and the chargers got their first round pick at 18, defensive lineman Corey Liuget from the University of Illinois. What kind of player is Liuget?

PARIS: He's a big old nasty guy. He's -- on the defensive end, and hope to stop the run. Chargers did quite a few things well last year. But among the things they had trouble with was stopping the run when the other team was trying to run down the clock and preserve the lead. And while their ranging was good, the Chargers finished actually number one, defending the run when it was crunch time, when it was critical that they stopped the run and get the ball back, they were unable to do it. So they're gonna plot Corey, who goes about 200, 300 pounds with a wink. He's a little bigger than that, and he's gonna stop the run. And what this tells you, really, their whole draft was defensive oriented. The Chargers are pretty happen with that offensive, and they should be. It was the number one rated offense in the league. And Philip rivers is an, lease quarter back that you'll find in the league right now. So they kind of looked defensively with Corey right off the bat, and they're hoping that he can stop the run and lock out the sun at the same time.

CAVANAUGH: So would you say this was general manager A. J Smith's most important draft to date.

PARIS: I think so because he wore that genius tag pretty well early on taking over as general man, but his last three drafts have been lacking. And the Chargers as much as they like to pound their chest and point to all their wins in the last three years, 33 wins or so, right up among the leaders, football is judged by how you do in the playoffs. And the Chargers have won one game this thee years, and it's shocking, really, when you consider the talent, consider their schedule last year, and consider how this thing was set up to -- this is really -- has been a golden era of Chargers football. Lord knows these Chargers fans have suffered through some lean years of this wasn't supposed to be it. The last 3 or 4 or 5†years was with LT, and Philip rivers, and Antonio gates. This is a golden year of Chargers football, and to electric back and say you've only one playoff game in the last three years, that shouldn't be acceptable to a very patient Chargers fan base, which is longing for that championship.

CAVANAUGH: It sounds as if you think this draft really added some depth to the Chargers' roster.

PARIS: It did, and I don't know if this is the right word, not a ream sexy pick. Not a real sexy draft. But these are the hard nosed guys, the defensive guys, the guys who'll play special teams and cover kicks and cover punts, and the lunch pale guys that are so critical to a winning team. And last year, the Chargers' special teams which covers the kicks and punts and does that sort of thing, was among the worst in NFL history. And it wasn't just a bad year. It was an epic collapse of that one phase of its game, and while the offense and defense played well, at many times, without strong special team, you're whistling into the wind, if you will. So then went and got some defensive players, and they got some players, maybe not star players, but players that they can plug into the special teams and punch the clock and go to work that way.

CAVANAUGH: Well, jay, you just mentioned a little while ago disappointed fans, which heads us to the Padres.

PARIS: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Why have the Padres been such a disappointment so early in the season do you think?

PARIS: It's really simple, really. It's making contact with the payable. And you can't be anymore simple about that. The pitching has been pretty darn good 67 it was great early. It had a few hiccups here. But that's a pretty solid part. Bull pin's one of the best in the league. Defense has been okay. Not quite as good as last year. But the lack of hitting, the lack of offense, and not only the hitting, the inability to strike the ball and put it in play. I mean, they already the league in the worst batting average, and the most strikeouts. And let's take last night for example, Maureen. 12 strikeouts. You only play nine innings. So there's out the innings, so that's half the game, four innings, in which the Padres didn't even put the ball in play. And you're really not giving yourself a chance. Because those other guys make mistakes too. And the ball can get you should their glove too, but it's harder to get on base if you can't put it into play. So until some of these younger players that they hoped would have gone a little bit more, until she's older veteran guys coming off bad season, until they prove they can rebound, it's gotta be a challenge for the Padres to compete.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, you know, the Padres' record is 1421 and 21. They're now in the last place. And did you expect them -- I know this people were -- sort of were worried about what the Padres would did this year, but did you expect this?

PARIS: I expected 500. And they certainly haven't played 500. Let's face it, this is a bridge season, this is the old Band-Aid. This is the year after we got rid of the best player on the team, Adrian Gonzalez, a complete super store, and how they couldn't figure out the bean counters down there to make that work with his star power and his way with the media, and the way he can speak Spanish and English, the marketing, the opportunities, and helping little ladies across the street. This guy was the real deal. They couldn't fit him into their price range was their argument. So they got a bunch of young guy, and they're hoping those young guys will pay off in a year or two. And maybe sooner that happen that with Anthony Rizzo, the first base man. So I think what's disappointing, this team won 90 games last year, and almost made the playoffs. They've only won 90 games four times in their existence. So to have that big drop-off while not expected when you've retooled the roster, when you've really revamped the club, disappointing because the Padres were so close last year, and what's utterly disappointing is all this good pitching going to waste. Because it's hard to find good pitching, and because they certainly have it. And with just a little more offense, they could be in the thick of things, and as doomsday as thing are going for the Padres, they are still only five and a half games out of first place. So†--

CAVANAUGH: Sure, yeah.

PARIS: So you don't quite need the binoculars yet to see Rockies. Something has to turn.

CAVANAUGH: You know, a lot of Padres fans want the Padres to call up their best minor league hitter, Anthony Rizzo. Why haven't the Padres called him up yet?

PARIS: Well, there's a couple of trains of thought there one is that he's tearing it up in triple A, and going from triple A to the majors, that's a big jump. And their contention is that he isn't old enough yet, he hasn't had enough seasoning down there, that the triple A members are inflated by playing in like Tucson and other ballparks where hitters really shine. You get to the majors, it's a different story. They don't want to bring him up because once you come up to the major leagues, your major league clock starts, and all contractors go further, being eligible for arbitration, being able to get big money sooner, that starts when you hit the big leagues. Now, they will deny this till the cow comes home, but by keeping him down in the minors, I that could be protecting themselves financially down the road. That said, the fan base is crying out for some excitement down at Petco. And their home record is one of the [CHECK AUDIO] lose and be boring, and right now, the team is boring, and the fans are letting them hear about it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. One last question to you, jay.

PARIS: Sure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Will the Padres trade heath bell at the contract deadline or offer him a contract extension, do you think?

PARIS: I would say they trade him. And this is coming from a guy who certainly appreciates Heath Bell, and he could even stay for a lesser price than he could get out to the market. But some of these teams are gonna be continuing for the playoffs. And some of these teams have owners who have deeper pockets, and if somebody blows them away with a, you know, the old bundle of prospects they can make our team better down the road, they'd be really tempted to move him. Because really if you're not winning games and you're not in game, what's really -- why even have a good closer if you're not at the end of the game and trying to save games? I hate it, because I know Padre fans are tired of prospects. They're tired of these guys becoming stars and then watching their careers blossom elsewhere. And that's just the nature of this ownership grandpa and the nature of how they're gonna go about things. So I would not be surprised if he's moved at some point during the season.

CAVANAUGH: Just really quickly, jay, when you go to the games, the Padres, when you go to Petco Park.

PARIS: Right.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are people actually bored?

PARIS: Yes. And I think they counter that by selling the ballpark. They sell the ballpark experience. They sell the freebie coming in the door, they sell the fireworks afterward, they sell the beer fest before the gay. They sell how pretty it is at Petco. And the. It's gorgeous. It's one of the prettiest parks. But you need at least one player in your lineup to say, you know what kid? You know you want that hot dog, well, I'm gonna watch Joey bag of doughnuts hit leer. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS watching this guy hit. I'm not getting up. There is nobody in that entire lineup where you would tell that kid let's go get that coke after this guy hits issue you know and so it's just one journey man player, one player without any pop in his lineup. One player after another with a subpar batting average trotting up there, and about the third or fourth inning, you're looking at the guy next to you, is this gonna go on all nine innings, and on top of that, they're not even making contact, they're striking out so much. So every line of these they have that one big star, that one big guy that you just won't leave before you watch him hit, and the Padres don't have that right now. It's tough to sell pitching and defense because the fire works don't go off. The guy hits one over the fence, it's fire work team, everybody's high fiving and you're getting hugs, and the guy hit a homerun. It's hard to shoot the fireworks off when a guy strikes a guy out or the pitcher does something well. It's just the nature of the game, which really goes back to sluggers are paid more money.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right.

DEFENDANT: So you try to build this team on itch approximating defense, which is much more economical, but way down on the excitement meter.

CAVANAUGH: Jay, thank you, thanks very much.

PARIS: All right. Cheers.

CAVANAUGH: Cheers back at you. And jay Paris is North County Times sports columnist. If you would like to comment, please go online, kpbs.org/thesedays. Coming up, a curious history of American attitudes towards immigrants. That's as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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