WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's message to the National Football League's squabbling owners and players on Thursday was as simple and powerful as a perfect touchdown pass:
Solve your labor dispute yourselves, I'm too busy.
Obama was asked at a press conference whether he would intercede in the battle between the NFL's wealthy players and its even wealthier owners, who are trying to thrash out a last-minute labor deal and avoid a possible lockout.
But the U.S. president, while a big fan of the NFL's Chicago Bears, is tied up with other matters, including turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa and negotiations with Republicans over how to cut record budget deficits.
"You've got owners, most of whom are worth close to a billion dollars. You've got players who are making millions of dollars," Obama said at the press conference, with the visiting Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
"My working assumption, at a time when people are having to cut back, compromise and worry about making the mortgage and paying for their kids' college educations, is that the two parties should be able to work it out without the president of the United States intervening," Obama said.
The most popular U.S. sport generates enough money that players and owners should be able to find a compromise, said Obama, whose successful campaign for president three years ago stressed that he was a new kind of politician able to work with his rivals.
"For an industry that's making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way and be true to their fans, who obviously allow for all the money that they're making," Obama said.
"And so my expectation and hope is that they would resolve it without me intervening because it turns out I've got a lot of other stuff to do."
The NFL players union and owners are at odds over how they should divide revenues. Under the current agreement the players get around 60 percent, but the league and team owners want a bigger slice of the pie to fund, in part, the building of new stadiums.
The last time the NFL season was affected by a labor dispute was in 1987, when the league brought in replacement players for a strike that lasted 24 days.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)