In Which They’re Working It Bay-Bee

The NFL lockout is continuing apace. Owners and players are girding their loins to prepare for their April 6th appearance in front of Judge Susan Nelson.

Both sides face an interesting problem with Judge Nelson. She’s never shown any sort of political bend or favoritism. She’s neither pro-business nor pro-worker. Although she was appointed by President Obama she’s been lauded by Republicans just as often. Additionally she has a, well deserved, reputation for getting cases settled out of court.

Take a gander at how she handled her very first case as a Federal Judge.

The issue polarized the greater Minneapolis community and attracted national headlines: should two gay teenagers be allowed to walk as a couple in their high school’s royalty court? School administrators said no. In late January, the girls sued.

Just a month into her tenure on the federal bench, Susan Richard Nelson handled the dispute by making sure it never got into a court room. She surprised the girls and school officials by inviting them into her chambers on a Saturday for an unsolicited mediation.

After more than six hours of talks, the teens agreed to drop the lawsuit. Two days later, they walked together in the royalty court.

“The whole day I will look back on with such gratitude, the way she approached it,” said Dennis Carlson, superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin schools, who participated in the settlement conference in the largely vacant downtown courthouse. “Dignity and grace come to mind.”

Simply put, she’s the one judge in the country who’s not going to brook any shenanigans from either side. And, bereft of that, what does either side really have?

Nevertheless, players are still trying to get into shape. Caleb Hanie & Rashied Davis are trying to arrange practices for the offense so they can run routes. They have invited Jay Cutler to participate as well.

I offer that statement without any further comment.

But what about the rest of the players? They need to work out, get conditioning and make sure their bodies are in peak shape for the day this lockout eventually ends. SEAN JENSEN at the Sun Times reports that lots of health clubs are making bank on NFL players right now.

Johnny Knox and Matt Toeaina are dripping sweat, their bodies ­aching from a circuit of exercises Monday that concentrated on their core, grip and legs.

They’re in a world-class workout facility surrounded by professional athletes, but they’re not at Halas Hall surrounded by teammates and coaches. NFL teams were permitted to ­begin offseason workout programs eight days ago, but after the expiration of the collective-bargaining agreement, owners imposed a lockout that bars players from team facilities.

“You miss the interaction with teammates and coaches and stuff like that, but it’s not too bad,” Toeaina said after his workout at EFT Performance in Highland Park. “I don’t know what to expect, but I have to prepare for whatever.”

With negotiations between the league and the NFL Players Association at a standstill — and a key April 6 federal court date in St. Paul, Minn., next week — the typical offseason schedule already has been affected, starting with the voluntary workouts. At stake after that would be minicamp, training camp, the preseason and regular season.

Blind, self-serving optimism aside, each player has to face his reality: He can’t afford — even with no income coming in — not to work out. And while the YMCA is practical and economical, NFL players ­favor trainers and specialized facilities that cost anywhere from $50 to $150 a day.

That’s an unexpected expenditure, considering any player typically receives at least $100 for each voluntary offseason workout he attends at his team’s facility. Stars, meanwhile, can collect significant bonuses for attending the majority of those voluntary workouts. For instance, Bears quarterback Jay ­Cutler and linebacker Brian Urlacher were scheduled to make $500,000 apiece for attending 90 and 85 percent of those sessions.

For now, though, players are paying out of pocket to stay in shape.

Knox and Toeaina train three to four days a week at EFT Performance, about six miles south of the Bears’ headquarters in Lake Forest, with founder Elias Karras. Free-agent defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Anthony Adams also train there. Matt Forte and Greg Olsen are training at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami; Charles Tillman is at Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego; and Roberto Garza, Nick Roach and Corey Wootton are at TCBOOST in Northbrook.

Bears defensive end Israel Idonije is an exception, opting to find a gym and work out on his own.

Boost in business

Karras and Pete Bommarito ­offer “Lockout Specials,” providing a discount from their usual rates for NFL veterans. Bommarito charges a weekly rate instead of a daily one, while Karras has an all-inclusive package that, in addition to a ­custom-tailored workout, includes a warmup, skill work, laser-massage therapy and a post-workout stretch, shake and meal.

“Normally, they’d be billed for everything individually, but I’m not trying to rob them,” Karras said with a smile.

Added Bommarito, “I want to give my [NFL] regulars a break.”

But these workouts are a luxury, especially for players who weren’t high draft picks or haven’t played several seasons. Former Northwestern receiver Eric Peterman, for ­example, serves as a part-time trainer at EFT to use the services and full-time trainers.

Bommarito, Karras and Bob Christian of TCBOOST said they have had an influx of NFL clients. Bommarito said 87 NFL players trained with him at some point last year.

“We already reached that,” Bommarito said, “and we haven’t even hit April.”

Nine more players are scheduled to come in today, he said.

Naturally, with business booming, the trainers and their employees are working overtime. And their support staff — masseuses, nutritionists, chiropractors, etc. — also are logging more hours.

In Miami, March and April are usually months Bommarito’s ­employees can steal a few breaks.

Not this year.

But Karras said he isn’t trying to compete with Rusty Jones, the Bears’ award-winning director of physical development.

“I don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Karras said. “I’m just trying to make it exciting and fun for these guys because they want to be in shape, but I also want to keep their football muscles firing.”

So Karras emphasizes drills that don’t overstress joints and use one’s own body weight.

“More movements than lifting in place,” Karras said. “These guys don’t need to be beat on.”

When the weather gets nicer, the players will do some work on a field nearby. But players enjoy Karras’ unique workout ideas, such as ­repeatedly sticking their hands in a bin of rice.

“I like what Rusty does for us,” Knox said. “But every trainer does stuff that is different. [Karras] does some things that I’ve never seen, but it’s fun, and it works.”

Personal touch

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that NFL players can be a fickle bunch. So trainers such as Karras, Bommarito and Christian have to be flexible and provide everything — at a first-class standard. Bommarito’s extensive “team” includes an in-house chef, while Karras has healthful meals delivered to his ­clients every day.

“They’re more like family to me than anything,” said Harris, who has trained with Karras for several years. “He has great workouts, [with an emphasis] on speed and quickness.”

Karras and his staff design a program for each athlete, often taking into account a player’s injury history. Toeaina is working on his lateral movement and flexibility.

“It’s real good,” Adams said. “It’s more what you need and not what you want.”

Knox realized the benefits of his offseason spent at EFT last year — he finished only 40 receiving yards short of 1,000 in 2010 — so he planned to return whether there was a lockout or not.

Asked why he wasn’t a regular at voluntary offseason workouts at Halas Hall, Knox said, “Just to get away from it for a little bit and do your own thing and get a different perspective.”

A fifth-round pick, Knox’s rookie contract included a $204,000 signing bonus, and his base salary in 2011 is scheduled to be $480,000. But he doesn’t have any problem paying for his workouts at EFT.

“It’s an investment,” Knox said. “What I do here is going to pay off in the future.”

The urgency is even greater for Adams and Harris, who are unrestricted free agents. After a new CBA is agreed upon, players without an NFL contract will have to scramble to get one.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s a part of the business,” Adams said. “You have to embrace it, and you have to be ready.

“That’s why I’m here.”

While it’s good that the players are working out, the fact that they are denied any interaction with their coaches has got to be detrimental at some level. It takes more than brawn to play football. If they get held out until mid-summer, which is about what everyone predicts, then they’ll only have a month or so to actually get ready for the season.

Not to be a curmudgeon, but I see lots of injuries happening from players trying to do too much too soon.


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