Football Union Holds the Line

Posted on January 12, 2011 by

National Football League team owners are used to getting their way.

These billionaires are often savvy developers, for example, who know how to extort subsidies from cities to build lucrative stadiums.

Now, just as the NFL playoffs heat up, team owners and the league are threatening players with a “lockout” next season if their union can’t reach a contract with the bosses.

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) comprise the only major professional athletes whose union is part of the AFL-CIO.  And so you’re very likely to hear some “solidarity”  talk from organized labor on behalf of our talented and brave “union brothers.”

Here’s an appeal from a highly regarded union advocacy group asking football fans to help players and their families hold onto their health benefits threatened by NFL owners “greed.”

Though it’s hard for average Americans to sympathize with their wealthy idols, NFL players are, in some sense, exploited workers.  Although many earn well more than a million dollars a season, the average player’s career tenure is just a little more than three years.  Many leave the game with physical – and in some cases brain – damage.  And their pension payouts - subpar compared to other pro sports – don’t kick in fully until decades after they retire.

The NFL gets high marks from fans, sportswriters and bloggers for its extremely competitive play, its parity among teams and its capacity to respond quickly to changing conditions (the league’s new concussion rules penalize “helmet to helmet” contact and require a third party evaluation before players with head injuries can reenter the game).

But the NFL and team owners – like businesses everywhere in the U.S. – will do everything possible to beat the hell out of its unions.

If the players association wants fan support, I think it should showcase the plight of its rank and file workforce.

Like a 345 pound offensive tackle who, every Sunday, sacrifices life and limb to protect his quarterback, making possible that spectacular 60-yard touchdown pass we all live for.

Comments (3)


  1. Don Gauthier says:

    I will support these NFL players as exploited workers. However, I have long ago turned away from professional sports. I have watched bosses, agents and players become progressively more focused on the dollars, while loyalty to fans and to the taxpayers who foot the bill for the stadiums, consideration for the citizens who deal with the traffic congestion, etc., has steadily declined.
    A recent LA Times Op-Ed page cartoon hits the target – let’s just annex San Diego on football nights!

  2. Very unfortunately the movie “The Replacements” vilified professional football players on strike and made it look like scabs were somehow heroes of the downtrodden. I knew a former Patriot player who’d been mustered out of the sport due to an injury after a few seasons and at least he landed on his feat with a decent union job, but his playing career was over just as it was getting started.

  3. Glen Arnod says:

    There is more at stake in this fight than the players, as important as their issues are. The Players Association has made a concerted effort to reach out to the more than one hundred thousand low wage service workers — janitorial, food service, parking, and others — who would lose their jobs in the event of a lockout.

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