NFL owners have been hearing for many months that they are a collection of miserly millionaires and blood-sucking billionaires.
Mostly they have been hearing it from the players on the other side of the bargaining table and less politely from fans and media.
So a lot of what Gov. Neil Abercrombie spouted Thursday about the Pro Bowl, while not music to their cauliflower ears, wasn’t new, either. Except for the curious bits about “how many sandwiches can they eat?” “bribes” and the comparative economics of civil unions.
The governor’s out-of-the-blue rant — “you can’t do things like give $4 million to a $9 billion football industry and not give money to children” — circuitously underlined some of what people around here have felt for a long time. Namely that the NFL, which could afford to be a little more grateful for what the state has done over the decades to resuscitate its all-star game, sometimes seems intent upon pressing its greed.
But it is one thing for fans and columnists to lament the $4 million Pro Bowl price tag and quite another for the chief executive of a state dependent on tourism to lash out so vehemently and visibly. There is expressing frustration with the priorities of budgeting in austere times and then there is just plain howling in the face of enlightened self-interest and reason.
Especially with the contract heading into its final months and negotiations looming.
What the governor did the other day was so bizarre as to either put the NFL back on the heels of its Italian leather loafers or raise the ire to the roof at 280 Park Ave. in New York. Time will tell.
It is one thing to poke a verbal stick at the governor’s favorite sparring partner, Rush Limbaugh, over birth certificates. It is something else entirely to publicly lob a wasp nest into NFL headquarters.
Ideally, Hawaii would have a string of events such as the Honolulu Marathon, which brings in millions and for which no subsidies are demanded. But when it comes to getting America’s sporting attention, the NFL is the most-followed brand in the land, a standing that makes it the 800-pound gorilla in most arenas it deigns to enter. As such, the NFL doesn’t negotiate as much as it dictates. Supplication is expected and opposition is rarely tolerated.
Four previous Hawaii governors over 32 years understood the ground rules as well as the game’s importance to the state and managed to make it work. Which is why the NFL treated a temporary contract rejection by the Hawaii Tourism Authority in 2009 like a bump in the road, taking little umbrage and getting done the deal that expires after the 2012 game.
But that was largely played out behind the scenes. What took place Thursday was the governor blathering from atop the state Capitol for all of cyberspace to behold.
The best card Hawaii has held in its negotiations is the players and their families preferring the state to all other destinations. And since the Pro Bowl is part of the collective bargaining agreement, the NFL has been willing to listen, to a point. But that was before bundling of the game with the Super Bowl was shown to be expedient and economical.
The fear now is that what the governor said this week gives NFL owners an opportunity to tell their players, hey we’d like to continue in Hawaii but you heard what their governor said: They don’t want us back after 2012.
Is that the message we really want echoing right now?
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.