mls Nashville SC

Transcript: Dan Lovitz on return-to-play plans, more

Nashville SC defender – and MLS Players Association representative – Dan Lovitz met with the media today to discuss the resolution of the latest labor dispute, a plan to continue the 2020 season in Orlando, and more. Read his full comments here.

“I just want to say first and foremost, thanks to everyone for taking the time. I know this process has been pretty strange on your end; I’m sure you can imagine how strange it’s been for us as players, and obviously the league. For us, it’s really important that this is one, coming to a close and we’re going to have some sort of definitive plan moving forward, or as far as we can see into the foreseeable future, that will take the shape of a tournament in Orlando. Pending the resolution of a lot of important details that I’m sure will be communicated rather soon. As far as everything else goes, I think I speak for everybody in sharing how excited and relieved we al are to be returning to the field relatively soon, and to be doing so under a certain set of circumstances where we have financial and a general economic deal that is included in the parameters of what we’re going to accomplish in Orlando. Obviously, everyone’s aware of what’s going on as far as the pandemic goes, and there isn’t a lot that we can predict moving forward as it moves into the later parts of the Summer and the Fall. For what we’re able to establish at the moment, Orlando is the most attainable goal for us as a league and as a set of players to go and compete and to provide a platform to compete for the fans again and to do what we do. So it’s exciting, we’re all very relieved like I said, this has been a hell of a process, and we’re just excited to get back out there.”

Was the lockout threat something that played a major role, and how did that league Maneuver come about?

“I think in the grand scheme of things, we all understood when this process started that that was an eventuality, in terms of that being the hard truth that we may have to face, or on the league’s side, was something that they may have to introduce as a way for them to cut their losses, and to financially stabilize a really terrible situation. But until Sunday, it wasn’t explicitly communicated. It finally was, and the conditions and the tone that it was communicated to us, given the scheme of what was happening with the negotiations at that point was, to put it lightly, a shock to the players. We thought we were very close to having a reasonable deal, and then we were put on a 24-hour shot clock, for all intents and purposes. We were told that we would be locked out if we didn’t agree to the terms, and it was a best-and-final offer from the league.

“It was unfortunate things took that turn. Again, obviously, we were able to avoid that, nonetheless it was a scary truth to look in the eyes. But from a player standpoint, it was pretty straightforward, because we knew what we were being forced into accepting was untenable in the form of an agreement. It was relatively straightforward, and it was a great moment for the players. There is no winner in this situation – I want to be clear about that: this is a really terrible situation for all parties involved and nobody should feel like they won a negotiation in this sense – from a solidarity standpoint, given the route that the league chose to take at this time in the negotiation process, we’re extremely comfortable and proud of our group of players in what we were able to communicate back to the league and ultimately receive what we feel is a more than fair deal.”

What were the league’s demands in comparison to the January agreement, and what were MLSPA’s disputes with those?

“I think to keep us out of the weeds of the details, because certainly for me some of this stuff – including force majeure most importantly – was kind of difficult to wrap your head around at the beginning and to see how that dynamic was evolving and what each side wanted out of it.; It’s basically a means for securing some form of solidarity in uniform payment reduction in the event that something in the form of an act of god or some unforeseeable event is able to impact the league’s functionality in terms of playing games. All other leagues have this functionality. We, for whatever reason, didn’t have this in our Collective Bargaining Agreement at the admission of the league over the years. This is now their opportunity they wanted to fold that in. Aside from the obvious things of taking a salary reduction, being able to manage and sort of manipulate our pending CBA ratification, to be pushed back a year, to tweak some of the elements in that – including revenue sharing in regards to a new TV deal that will be enacted in 2023 and how players are going to be sharing those revenue and how that money’s going to be spent as it comes back into the league – force majeure ended up being the hill, essentially, that the league wanted to die on, in terms of what they wanted to push, what they wanted to give themselves as a functionality moving into what is a very certain future.

“Unfortunately, the details and the parameters that the league was looking to effect through their version of force majeure was untenable from our side, it was impractical in a lot of ways, and we were able to essentially get them to back off of that, and to come back down to a more reasonable level that is more similar to other functionalities across other major leagues that they use this clause to manage certain situations in as we are experiencing now. Across the whole thing, of course it’s a big, all-encompassing deal that obviously had a lot to do with Orlando, and like I said salary reductions, CBA manipulations, concessions in all sort of forms that we were able to make. Obviously the league was trying and pursuing to attain a different combination of those factors, but in the end, we were able to come to something that we feel comfortable with, and that we feel like represents a good – definitely not favorable for either side – but a good path forward. And that’s the most important thing right now.”

Have you been given target dates for returning to training prior to the Orlando tournament?

“The most important thing that I want to mention now is that we’re incredibly lucky here to be part of a club, and a technical staff, and a front office that have been incredibly accommodating during this process. As you can imagine, it hasn’t been easy for anyone, let alone them. It’s made our jobs a lot easier as players. I’m sure they’ve been in communication with the league surrounding the details, and that’s something that they’re going to communicate to us rather soon – I think today or tomorrow – as to what form training will resume, and what the new guidelines will be. I know there’s been some progress, which is exciting. But they’ve done a great job of staying out of our way when it comes to frying the bigger fish, I guess you could say.

“We’re looking forward to getting back; we’ll learn more details soon about what that will actually look like. We are expecting to head down to Orlando toward the end of June – I think the 24th is the tentative date that’s been set out. We’ve consolidated the window for the entire Orlando tournament from what it was originally proposed as, which is good: it helps the players that have families, it helps guys that have safety concerns to limit the time that we’re going to be in this environment and accomplishing this tournament. I think that’s very important, and that was a big deal, big sticking point for us. We’re looking at the possibility of allowing certain clubs that are within markets that are a little bit more open at the moment with the pandemic to take advantage – if they’re able – of their ability to function normally and to operate within their markets: maybe cutting down on the time that they actually need to be in Orlando, although the league has communicated that they are comfortable with providing a preseason-type window when we are in Orlando of a few weeks of training before formal competition begins.

“The players were insistent upon maintaining a certain amount of time at home if they’re able to do so, if the team is able to train in their home markets, to take advantage of that. I think we’re lucky enough to be in one of those markets here. I think just logistically, like you said, we’re trying to sort out exactly how this is going to look and how it works, but we can expect to be down there late June, hopefully as we learn more very soon about what the new parameters are and the guidelines, we’ll be able to get out there and to get a little bit closer back to normal before we get down to Orlando.

Has there been discussion of what the season looks like continuing beyond the Orlando tournament?

“I think the easy answer is we want to play the whole season. I think that is the goal for both sides here: players want to make sure that we can get out and play; the league wants to put on a product and wants to deliver us to the fans. That’s the most important thing, and at the end of the day, we’re just trying to find the safest and most practical route towards that. At this time, it’s very hard to project into the future what post-Orlando MLS scheduling will look like. I think a lot of it obviously is dependent upon the state of the nation and the pandemic: how local and the federal government is responding to that. That’s kind of all up in the air and certainly out of our control, so it’s going to be interesting for sure. I wish I could tell you. It’s been a huge thing that we’ve had to focus on as a group of players and obviously the league. We’re all trying to gameplan for what things could look like afterwards.

“We understand that there are certain financial considerations that the league has to make when it comes to putting on games without fans in the stands. Again, the ball is in their court when it comes to that., We’re happy to have some confirmation of what the deal will look like in a collective bargaining agreement. That’s a huge part of this: we’re able to secure that moving forward so that there is no uncertainty or ambiguity in the terms of how we progress. But as for the actual shape it takes: are we going to look at a consolidated season? Are we still going to try to fit in all the games and push it later into the Winter? Who knows. But at this moment, we’re just focused on Orlando. As a group of players, we’re happy to have accomplished what we did and come to terms with the league. Orlando is what we’re focusing on now. Afterwards, we have no way of controlling that. It’s just one of those things, we really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Has there been discussion of whether the league will try to level the playing field for those franchises that are behind in return-to-training protocols?

“Honestly, I don’t know. For us, it’s relatively straightforward. Like you mentioned, we’re going to have the ability to train here. Although we’re not using the facilities yet, we’re going to be able to train outside at the training ground and hopefully do it in bigger groups really soon. That’s something that MLS is going to have to wrestle with: how are we going to get all teams down there on an even playing field? Is it fair to give a competitive advantage to the markets like us that are able to function a little bit more normally? For teams that are in some of the markets where things have been a little bit more difficult – in California or New York – are they going to be entering into the tournament on the same level as we are if we’ve been able to train for a certain number of weeks before we get down there. Again, I don’t really know how to answer that. It’s going to be up to the league.

“I think they are very committed to ensuring that there is a level playing field and there is no significant competitive advantage allotted to any team. When push comes to shove, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that the teams that are able to attain any additional progress towards normal, they’re going to reap the benefits of that. It’s going to be great to be put there with the guys again, and that’s a really tough thing to be deprived of. So, I think as we get closer to Orlando, hopefully there’s some more movement across all markets uniformly so that people can get out there and train and clubs aren’t certainly behind other clubs and we can just find a way back and it’s pretty straightforward for everybody.”

Has the league given answers as to what happens if there are specific players who don’t want to travel to Orlando because of health or personal concerns?

“I think the reason you don’t get a straight answer is because it’s kind of a tricky one, right? I think the league is doing a decent job of working with us, understanding that we have guys that have wives who are expecting in the coming month. We have people that are going to be leaving a situation where their families are in their home markets, but these are people from other countries and they have multiple children that aren’t able to function as a full family as they usually would be with their husbands out of town for a long time. This is something the league is trying to help us work with. I think they’re being relatively reasonable and certainly understanding of the fact that being there for your child’s birth is more important than being in Orlando for a tournament. I think that should be pretty straightforward and understood by everybody, and I’m sure they will accommodate.

“As for, like you mentioned, the guys that are extremely worried about the safety and their health, I think that isn’t something to ignore by any means, but I think that the league has done a very good job enlisting the help of pandemic specialists, communicating those details to us – although those details came a little bit later than we would have liked – I think they’ve outlined a relatively practical plan to accomplish this tournament in Orlando, and I think that anybody with significant safety or health concerns has had the opportunity to communicate with league officials, with the Players’ Association, and the leadership to make sure those questions are answered. As for – like you said, I don’t know if you want to call it punishment or an opt-out clause for what will be the actual situation for people to choose not to go, versus are obligated to return back home for certain reasons – I’m not sure what form that has taken yet. I think we’re ironing out those details. They may already be ironed out, but like I said, we’ve been  focused on the much bigger picture of getting a deal done and understanding that this isn’t a great situation for anybody.

“This is a very difficult situation for the league to put on. They’ve done it fast, they’ve done it as completely and well-though-out as they could. Obviously this is a huge ask for the players to leave their families in a time of incredible uncertainty and uncomfortability: and to go play a tournament, and to be quarantined for 4-6 weeks. It’s a big ask and everyone’s doing their part to make sure that works. For the people who still don’t feel that’s good enough, I think that that situation is going to be – although I don’t have the exact details – I think that’s going to be relatively straightforward as to how it applies to them.”

Would you rather stay in Nashville to prepare rather than starting full-team training in Orlando?

“I wouldn’t say it’s more necessary, but it’s certainly our priority, it’s our preference without a doubt. It’s the most consistent backdrop we’ve had to doing our jobs, is to be at Currey Ingram and practicing as a team: that’s just how it’s been. I think we were just getting to the point where we’d been training in-market here in Tennessee just as long as we’d been on the road for preseason. We’re excited to get back to that certainly, and the more time that we can log on the field with Gary and the staff, and with everyone there, while we’re at home, the better. It’s a no-brainer for us, and I think it would be for all the other teams that have that ability. It’s not something you want to rush away from home ever, let alone for the guys who have families, but even for other players that are operating alone, I just think it’s a lot easier to stick in your own market and to have your routine, know where you’re going, not have to be in a hotel.

“From a player’s standpoint, it’s not even worth comparing: everyone wants to be here and do what we do as long as we can before it’s time to go in and compete. We know where we’re going to be competing, and we know how long we’re going to be there – hopefully all six weeks – but we’ll see what happens. I think it’s important that that part is clarified relatively soon. Again, I wasn’t able to hear all of Commissioner Garber’s address earlier today, but I heard some snippets of it, and I understand that they are in the process of consolidating and better-defining some of those details. Hopefully, like you said, we’ll be able to continue our work in what was an exciting start to the year, and to do it here most importantly, and then to go and compete in Orlando, but to stay here as long as possible.”

How seriously will it be taken?

“I’ll tell you right now: not everyone’s going to take this seriously. That’s just the nature of it. I think from our standpoint, it represents an incredible competitive advantage. I see the way guys on this team have been training, I understand how the coaches have been able to communicate to us, and our understanding for a long time now has been: ‘we’re prepping for this Orlando tournament, and we’re going there to win it.’ I think that’s very important to state.

“I also have been in contact with a lot of players from a lot of different teams in a lot of different markets during this whole process, and I can tell you that there are groups of guys who are not excited about going to Orlando: that’s just a fact. How that translates to the field and their competitive edge and will to play, frankly doesn’t concern me. I am more concerned about our group and what we’re able to do, and I feel really good about where we are mentally, and from a training standpoint.

“Fitness-wise, I think we’re exactly where we need to be, and I’m excited to hear that we’re going to be kicking it into a new gear with Gary and everybody to incorporate more people on the field at one time, not just be stuck in quadrants. But like you said, this was certainly put on at the very beginning loose-and-fast, and it was something that we sort of flinched at as a group of players, and we’re happy to have come to an agreement that has a lot of the most important things ironed out in the form of details. Moving forward, it would be a lie if I were to tell you that, across the player pool, everybody was champing at the bit to go down there and play. Like you said, we don’t really understand yet what is going to be the rest of the year, what form the rest of the season’s going to take, is this going to be it, how do the points translate? There’s a lot of unknowns, and I think that’s understandable given the broader picture of what’s going on here. I think it’s – like I said – important just to focus on Orlando for what it is, to go there, to do our jobs. For us, Nashville SC, to go and win. That’s the most important thing, that’s frankly all I’m concerned about and I think I speak for the guys as well.”

What are your expectations out of Orlando from a human perspective, not necessarily the on-field parts?

“It’s tough to know. We were going into this process asking the league lots of things like: ‘are we all going to have our own room? Are we going to be limited to our floor with our team when we’re staying at the resort? Are we going to eat as a group or are we going to be eating individually?’ And we’re starting to get answers on that stuff. We don’t really know what life is like. If I’m being honest, the league was telling us that there are great running trails and there are barbecue areas for us to enjoy. I don’t think they remembered that we’re supposed to be social distancing, and that we do most of our training on the field, so that was pretty interesting to hear from them.

“But I think it’s going to be an extended preseason, that’s all: we’ve all done it multiple times, we know that it’s not the most exciting lifestyle, definitely, and certainly not under what this form of it is going to be. But they’ve been very good about letting us know that they’re going to be providing – along with the MLSPA – mental health support, nutritional support, anything that we can get because they understand and are willing to accommodate a group of players that are going down there to accomplish something that’s never been asked of players in the league before. Not to make it overly dramatic, but it’s going to be a new frontier for us, a new form of competing. Like I said, from the human element, it’s going to be difficult. Everyone’s going to have to go down there and try to make the best out of it, make sure that they can keep themselves in a good enough place mentally to compete at the level which I think the tournament deserves. If this is going to be our only shot at playing formally this year, we need to really throw ourselves at it, and I think you need to be in a good place mentally to do so. We’ll see.

“Honestly, it’s easier to write things down on paper and have questions answered here; it’s different when you get down there and are actually living it. We’ll have to wait and see, but it is what it is. I don’t think anybody expects this to be a really normal experience, a really well-ironed out and enjoyable process by any means. This is a necessary… not evil, but a necessary task, an endeavor that we have to undertake to make sure that the league is better of than where it was a couple weeks ago. I thin kit’s important that we go down there and that we throw ourselves at it, like I said, but more than anything, just make sure that everyone is just entering into a good mindspace and mental headspace when we get down there to do what needs to be done.”

Did this week’s negotiations fracture the relationship between the league and its labor force?

“I could write a book. I think it’s been an incredibly frustrating process, just based on the moving pieces of this whole process and how that’s all gone. But we talk about it a lot, and it’s something that we kind of acknowledge as a group of players: it’s that when things become difficult, or very uncertain or scary, I think you have a much better idea of who you’re dealing with, and people’s character really comes out. What we were shown from the league, frankly, was not good enough. It was an insistence on making the discourse adversarial. It was disrespectful at times. It felt like we weren’t really trying to get a deal done. It felt like we were – for lack of any better words, it was just a really, really frustrating an unpleasant process. We didn’t expect it to be nice by any means – we didn’t think anybody was going to be happy during it, and especially after it – but the flow of information, the way things progress, especially within the last week, was unacceptable.

“It was something that made our job as players extremely easy, because we knew who we were sitting across the table from, and it made our jobs relatively straightforward on how we were going to respond. We hope that in time, the wounds from this process heal, but it’s just really tough to hear the league say that they are interested in using the partnership between the league and the players to help grow the league into what they want it to be when they continually show us what they think of the partnership that we share, and actions speak much louder than words. I don’t care what Commissioner Garber said earlier: it’s just when the time comes and you have to act, that’s what you’re defined by, and we were shown their true colors in that moment. Again, it’s a scary time: we understand that emotions were involved – they certainly were in our side of the camp – but at the same time, we were all operating in good faith – or so we thought. We’re excited that we were able to have this coming to an end more than anything. I’m exhausted; I can only imagine the executive board and the leadership board of the PA and some of the prominent people on the league side. This has been a terrible, terrible situation to try to navigate, for sure.

Like I said, I hope those wounds eventually heal; they certainly won’t soon. I anticipate that this isn’t the last we’re going to experience from it, and again I don’t really mind that so much. It was just incredibly gratifying to be on this side of it and to understand where we’ve come as a player pool, and what we represent, and how we went about doing it: to accomplish what were the necessary steps to get back to normal here. I’m incredibly proud of that. It was a really nice experience to be able to keep tabs on guys on the team and guys on other teams, and understand that everybody was on the same page, and fighting for the right things in the right way – and that was the silver lining, if anything. Like I said, there’s no winners in this scenario: this was a very difficult situation. I’ll give people the benefit of the doubt of trying their best to accomplish what needed to be done. Sometimes the actions didn’t really reflect what we thought the end goal should be, but at the end of the day, everybody has their process. We’re incredibly happy with ours, and we’re very excited to move forward now.”

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