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Scott Green, president of the referees association, responds to cheers as refs arrive at the Sept. 30 game between the Miami Dolphins and the Arizona Cardinals.
Associated Press/Photo by Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic
Scott Green, president of the referees association, responds to cheers as refs arrive at the Sept. 30 game between the Miami Dolphins and the Arizona Cardinals.

Game of chicken

Sports | Adversarial labor disputes send sports leagues hurtling toward head-on crashes—and for what?

Issue: "Inside Election 2012," Oct. 20, 2012

In 1968, the NFL players association voted to strike during the offseason seeking better pay. The owners countered with a lockout. But just 11 days into the work stoppage, the two sides reached an agreement that increased player salaries without sapping team budgets. No games canceled. No ticket revenues lost.

That kind of relative agreeability and penchant for reaching mutually beneficial outcomes seems lost in today’s sports labor disputes. The recent referee lockout in the NFL smacked more of a high speed game of chicken than a rational negotiation, both sides apparently willing to drive the game into a head-on crash rather than accept defeat. A crash is exactly what the owners and referees got in the form of a nationally televised Monday night debacle that robbed the Green Bay Packers of a victory they had earned.

Only in the face of such wreckage did the parties rush back to the negotiating table in hopes of salvaging a now deeply defaced season. And what did this disastrous collision ultimately produce? A minor compromise from both sides that will allow the NFL to increase the number of officials and will grandfather out the current pension plan in favor of 401(k) retirement accounts. They played chicken for this? Couldn’t they have reached such a deal without need of bent metal and busted glass?

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Perhaps not. The adversarial nature of sports labor disputes has grown steadily over the past half century. The 2012 referee lockout simply extended that trajectory. The question now remains whether this new standard for pettiness will become the new norm or serve as a cautionary tale for future labor negotiations.

If the present NHL lockout is any indication, the pettiness meter appears ready for yet another climb. NHL owners and players appear willing to sacrifice the entire upcoming season for the sake of a few percentage points in hockey-related revenue. That could prove disastrous for a game already suffering declines in fan interest.

The ‘Matheny Manifesto’

Mike Matheny
Mike McGinnis/Getty Images
Mike Matheny

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s first coaching gig was far from the Big Leagues, but its impact could prove plenty big. The former Major League catcher, who retired from playing after the 2006 season, entered the world of youth baseball bent on reforming what he viewed as a sick win-at-all-costs culture. Before he had coached a single game, he penned a five-page document, now dubbed the “Matheny Manifesto,” outlining strict guidelines for combating parental intrusion, overbearing coaching, and bad attitudes among players.

After a year of implementing his reforms, Matheny let youth baseball organizers throughout St. Louis run with the new approach. It went viral. Today, youth leagues across all ages and many sports are using the document. Here are a few highlights:

On parental involvement: “The biggest problem with youth sports has been the parents. … I believe that the biggest role of a parent is to be a silent source of encouragement. … I have taken out any work at all for you except to get them there on time, and enjoy. … I am not saying that you cannot clap for your kids when they do well. I am saying that if you hand your child over to me to coach them, then let me do that job.”

On arguing with umpires: “Let the record stand right now that we will not have good umpiring. … The boys will not be allowed at any time to show any emotion against the umpire. They will not shake their head, or pout, or say anything to the umpire.”

On authority: “One of the greatest lessons that my father taught me was that my coach was always right … even when he was wrong. … Our culture has lost this respect for authority mostly because the kids hear the parents constantly complaining about the teachers and coaches of the child.” —M.B.

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