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Steinberg: NBA can learn from NFL

Steinberg Says

October 15, 2011|By Leigh Steinberg

The NBA lockout drags on with games canceled this week.

On Tuesday a federal mediator will meet with the sides in New York. A mediator is not someone empowered to force the sides to compromise — as in binding arbitration. Good mediators are skilled at moving between two groups in conflict and painting apocalyptic visions of a future in which they do not settle.

He conveys offers back and forth between parties that are in different rooms. He cajoles and threatens hour after hour until an agreement is reached. The process can be grueling for everyone involved. Even if there is not an agreement, the mediator may have forced the parties to show their hand in a way that narrows the gap and leads to a future settlement. It is a good sign that the parties agreed to mediate.

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David Stern has predicted that if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached by Tuesday, games won't be played on Christmas. He is a combative and aggressive negotiator for the owners, who has laid out the NBA position publicly in an attempt to get fans angry at players for their large salaries. He knows these are tough economic times and the public has little sympathy for a battle that pits millionaires and billionaires.

The NFL was very shrewd in keeping a news blackout on their talks, as were the players. For a major economic dispute involving billions of dollars, there were very few statements made by the sides to publicly paint the players or owners as villains. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was intentionally very bland in his stance other than predicting a deal would be done.

The problem with demonizing the other side is that it does real damage to the brand of the sport. It breaks down the delicate bond between fans and sports. When the last major league baseball strike was done, fan loyalty was seriously impacted. Attendance dropped the next season, and it took the steroid (allegedly) fueled home run duel between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to bring it back.

My book "Winning With Integrity" outlines how deadlock and conflict hardens positions and prevents a win-win result. It is the same impulse toward passionate self justification and vilification of the other side that leads to war, divorce and other dire consequences. It is necessary to put yourself in the other parties heart and mind and see the world the way they see it. It requires creative minds engaged in a process that will respect the other parties goals and priorities.

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