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Owners approve deal to end lockout; players balk

By Paul Newberry

Associated Press

Published: Friday, July 22 2011 1:05 a.m. MDT

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney speaks during a news conference where it was announced that NFL owners have agreed to a tentative agreement that would end the lockout, pending player approval, in College Park, Ga., on Thursday, July 21, 2011. In the background is Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

John Bazemore, Associated Press

COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — NFL owners chatted much of the day, polished off a couple of meals, then overwhelmingly approved a deal to end the lockout.

Only one problem: The players aren't ready to join them at the table just yet.

So America's most popular sports remains in labor limbo a bit longer.

The owners voted 31-0 Thursday for a decade-long deal to settle the impasse, but any giddiness among fans was quickly snuffed out. The players declined to vote on the proposal, at least right away, and a rash of Twitter messages left little doubt that plenty of work remains before there's any blocking and tackling.

"NFL players! Stay strong! We are still fighting for past, present and future players. We will vote when they give us something to vote on!" wrote Ryan Clark of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Added Robert Johnson of the Tennessee Titans: "Owners tried to pull a fast 1 on us making the fans believe it's because of US the players....Not this time buddy."

Commissioner Roger Goodell and the owners expressed hope that their vote would lead to a speedy resolution to the NFL's first work stoppage since 1987. They called it an equitable deal that improves player safety and allows the sport to prosper even more.

"It is time to get back to football," a weary Goodell said during an evening news conference at an Atlanta-area hotel.

The players said they won't be rushed into a deal, even with the owners insisting that time is running out to get in a full slate of four preseason games and 16 regular-season contests.

Already, one game is sure to be lost: The league called off the Hall of Fame exhibition opener, set for Aug. 7 between Chicago and St. Louis.

"The time was just too short," Goodell said.

The owners pored over details of the proposed settlement for some nine hours, first breaking for lunch, then sending for dinner before a vote finally was taken. Every team approved it except the Oakland Raiders, who abstained.

Afterward, no one seemed in a celebratory mood. It sounded more like relief.

"These things, by their very nature, aren't supposed to make you necessarily happy when you walk out the door. It was a negotiation," Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. "I don't mean to sound negative, but it isn't exactly like Christmas has come along here."

Instead, Jones and his fellow owners called if a fair process involving plenty of give-and-take on both sides.

"It's been long and at times has been very, very difficult," said Jerry Richardson, owner of the Carolina Panthers. "We're confident that the players and the teams have arrived at a good place. We think we have a fair, balanced agreement."

But George Wilson, the player representative for the Buffalo Bills, called the owners' vote and subsequent news conference "an attempt to break the spirits of our men and to fracture the solidarity that we've exemplified thus far."

He said the deal approved by the owners included provisions the players haven't even seen, which is why no vote was taken during a conference call Thursday night.

"Ultimately, the guys felt like this thing is being force-fed to us, that it's being shoved down our throats," Wilson told The Associated Press. "And the way everything transpired this evening, in a sense, was trying to add more pressure to the situation and force us to accept this deal without really being able to see all the details of what they voted on."

Clearly, the basic outline of the proposed agreement — much of which was agreed upon a week ago — can still produce a deal acceptable to both owners and players. Maybe, given all the enmity displayed during the four-month work stoppage, it was farfetched to think everything would go smoothly at the end.

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