Rush Players Have Say to Commish
I recall a very short conversation that I had with Arena Football League Commissioner Jerry Kurz prior to the season opener for the Chicago Rush last year.
After the now infamous game between Pittsburgh and Orlando that was played with replacement players the night before, and the league in the midst of the fight with the Players Union for a new agreement, the Commissioner told me that he is “in the business of putting on football games.”
Now to trump last year’s hurdles, the Chicago Rush have had to be taken over by the league in the middle of the season after the league’s relationship with the previous owner (for all of three months) failed because the owner was found to have been a three-time convicted felon, had filed bankruptcy just months before he took over the team, stolen money from a neighbor, bounced checks, etc, etc.
The league office had failed to conduct a background check on the owner before handing him the team.
Up until last Thursday, the players for the Rush had not had any communication from the league as to what their fate was going to be for the rest of the season.
“Basically from a player’s perspective, we (didn’t) know what’s going on,” wide receiver Reggie Gray told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Me personally, I’m extremely upset because I’m basically [feeling] as if I was lied to ... and I’m upset at the league for allowing people to take over that doesn’t have stability for the long haul.”
Multiple rumors have been floating around since the league took ownership of the team more than three weeks ago such as the team moving to Rockford for the remainder of the season, being a traveling team for the rest of the season, or maybe even folding mid-season.
With the league offices and the team in peril being in Chicago, the Commissioner obviously found it more important to speak with an Arizona beat reporter before addressing the team, telling the reporter that the team would indeed finish out the season under league ownership, unbeknownst to anyone in the Windy City.
As was rumored last week, Kurz met with the players and coaches of the Chicago Rush last Thursday to discuss the fate of the team going forward.
In what has been an embarrassment to both the league and the Rush organization, it was finally time for him to face those he needed to face the most. And what he might have learned is that it is not all about business.
“He (Kurz) talked about moving the team out to Rockford for the rest of the season,” confirmed one Rush player.
The player also confirmed that the team would have been moved out of their current living arrangements and put up in a hotel in the Rockford area for the rest of the season.
“Guys weren’t going to do that,” the player said. “We are already comfortable where we are at. Guys have their families, their kids they’ve got situated in schools, and their wives out here. They don’t want to up and move an hour away. If they have jobs, they have to travel an hour each way in traffic. You have to think about that.”
According to multiple sources, the meeting got real heated and coaches had to try to calm some of the players down as expletives were flying at the Commissioner from all angles.
“You can’t just do whatever you want because you are the Commissioner,” the player continued. “You have to think about everybody else. You can’t just think about yourself and filling your pockets. You just can’t do that. Basically, I have lost all respect for him.”
One of the guys that was reportedly very vocal during the meeting was Rush mack linebacker Tyus Jackson. Jackson has more to look out for than just himself.
“I am a single parent,” Jackson declared. “I have my son by myself. I don’t only have to make moves for me, but for him too. We just moved up here from another city and now we would have to move again? That does not fit right with me. I don’t want my son looking at me and saying ‘Daddy, why are we moving again?’ He already has a lot going on to have to deal with that again.”
Jackson has also been through this situation before and says he knew what to expect during the meeting with the Commissioner.
“(The meeting) went like I knew it would go. He came in and told us stuff and said that he didn’t know. I think that he did know. We have the biggest market in the league. How could you not know what your owners are doing? I came here with the faith that there was a good owner here.”
Jackson has seen this situation multiple times before and sees one common denominator in each of the times that this has happened.
“I’ve been through it with Fort Wayne in the deuce (AF2). I’ve been through it with Quad City in the deuce. Every team that I have been on has folded and I have been through it. Let me remind you that it has been the same Commissioner, Mr. Kurz. So when he comes and tells me that he didn’t know, I find that hard to believe because he is still telling me the same stories that he told me in 2007, 2009, and now 2013. He didn’t know.”
Some players even believe that Kurz is to blame for the current state of the league and could see it getting worse if things are not changed.
“He is trying to take the fun out of it with all of these rules and all of this other crap,” one of the players stated emphatically. “There are a lot of guys that are just going to want to quit. People are starting to think that this league is a joke (because of the last two seasons), but it’s not. It’s still (a high level of football) and can be a great developmental league.”
As much as any fan of the Arena Football League might hate to admit it, this current situation with the Rush puts the problems with negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) last season into a new and different perspective.
Maybe for this league to actually grow and resemble what a quality football league should look like, or what the Arena Football League once was, it really does need representation for the players… and a new Commissioner.
Think of how this current Chicago situation may have played out otherwise if the CBA was not completed.
“I am really thankful that we have our representation right now,” said Rush fullback JJ Payne, who is also the teams representative for the AFL Player’s Union. “I know that if we did not have our representation, we’d be screwed already and they would have just did it even though it is his fault. It’s his mess up and you want to try to get away because you screwed up. Guys shouldn’t have to deal with that.”
According to James Baron, the AFLPU Executive president, the Players Union executives met with the team a couple of hours after the meeting with the Commissioner to understand what the meeting entailed and to understand the concerns raised by the players.
“We had the chance to talk to guys and hear about what (the Commissioner) had to say,” Baron proclaimed. “The players got after him a bit and challenged him. (He) can accept responsibility, that’s one thing, but then accountability is another thing. Some of the players want the accountability.”
“There is urgency with us to find out the particulars and the specifics on the league’s plans,” he continued. “But you can’t force anyone to talk or tell you without some kind of court order. We would have liked to have known yesterday what the (league) plans are. We just want them to follow the letter of the law that is noted in the CBA. To us it is pretty clear as to the interpretation of it.”
According to another player source, the Commissioner stated that he thinks that the players do not and have not read and understand the CBA, a statement that multiple players say is definitely not true.
“I read the whole entire damn thing because I want to know what the hell I am getting myself into and to understand what they (the league) can and can’t do,” the player stated. “You are talking to guys that have college degrees. We are not stupid. The way he was talking to us sounded like he thought we were stupid.”
According to Baron, the AFLPU has put the league on notice in regards to moving the team and that it is something that they are not agreeable to. He stated that the CBA strictly prohibits that and that it is something that the league would have to bargain with them on.
“It has not been a proactive process,” he proclaimed. “(The league) has done the same thing with the media, their employees, and the union. We do not find out about this stuff until the day before or the day of. That process should be a lot smoother and we should be sharing information as it is required.”
Baron said that they were supposed to have had some preliminary meetings earlier this week and they never happened.
“They have their own board and they will decide how they should move collectively as a board,” he said. “Hopefully people will be held accountable and we can really start working together in the right way. Yes we have a deal, but that does not mean a partnership.”
In a statement that some players have confirmed and others have not commented on or denied, Kurz was told during the meeting by the team that if it is determined that the team is to be moved to Rockford, that they would all turn in their equipment and walk away.
“We’re a team,” Jackson stated passionately. “What one of us is going to do, we all gonna do it. We’re fighting in this battle together.”
While the battle may now be over, the war will continue to wage on.
The matter is now in the hands of the AFLPU and will need to be worked out with the league.
“I know that they (AFLPU) have to meet with Mr. Kurz and his executive committee on the outcome of everything,” Payne said. “But (the Player’s Union) knows where our players stand, they know how we feel, and they are our representation so we are going to let them take care of the negotiating and things like that.”
After waiting over three weeks to hear from the Commissioner in regards to their team, all in all, the players are finally glad that something occurred. They now know it is out of their hands.
“It was a conversation that needed to get out on both sides,” Jackson said. “It was a heated argument, but it’s over now. I hope he took some of it like I took some of it and makes it better for the near future.”
As of today, a meeting has not been had between the AFLPU and the league and a resolution on the remainder of the rest of the season for the Rush has not been clarified.
Optimistically, Jackson also looks at the situation as another opportunity for personal growth.
“It’s just life,” Jackson said. “This is something that will set you up later on in life. It’s just another stepping stone in life as long as you can get over it. You’ll look back on it and say this ain’t (nothing). I can do this. I done been through the toughest of times, but this ain’t nothing. You keep going.”
It is just a shame when personal business has to affect the personal lives of others.
Long time Rush Equipment Manager Jeff “Hendo” Henderson was let go by the league after he refused to sign a league document, a source confirmed. Henderson had been the Equipment Manager for the Rush since the team’s inception in 2001 and had won multiple league awards for his work.
Jeff has been writing for ArenaFan.com since 2004. Originally from New York, Jeff has been living in the Chicago area for the past ten years and is an avid football fanatic. He holds a BA in communications from Hofstra University in New York and a sports management certificate from Loyola University in Chicago.