NFL Lockout: Which Side Are You On?

As an NFL lockout and the possible cancellation of the 2011 season haunts the sports faithful across the country, reporters sought the opinion of a certain Chicago Bears fan living in Washington, DC: Barack Obama.

 

As someone who has watched the president spend three years appearing annoyed over the concerns of organized labor, I was not surprised by his comments. But I was still upset. Obama said, "You've got owners, most of whom are worth close to a billion dollars. You've got players who are making millions of dollars.... When people are working to cut back, compromise and worry about making the mortgage and paying for their kids' college education is that the two parties should be able to work it out without the president of the United States intervening."

The news flash for reporters was that "Obama will not be intervening." But for me, the part that made my eyes narrow was Obama's repetition from the bully pulpit that all the problems in the NFL is about "billionaires vs. millionaires." He might as well have said, "a pox on both their houses"

There are so many reasons why this is wrong and even more reasons why fans, labor activists and progressives should stand proudly with the players.

First of all, it's a lockout, not a strike. The NFL Players Association has said repeatedly that they will play under the existing contract until a new agreement is reached. Amazingly, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says that this proves there needs to be a lockout. Goodell wrote, "The union has repeatedly said that it hasn't asked for anything more and literally wants to continue playing under the existing agreement. That clearly indicates the deal has moved too far in favor of one side." Keep in mind, this is a league coming off its most successful season in history. But for the owners it's not enough. They want massive wage cuts and an extension of the season to eighteen games. If they don't get it and if there is no extension, they will be locking the doors by midnight.

A March lockout might mean little to fans, but for players it constitutes a threat to their very health. An off-season lockout means that they will have no access to team trainers, doctors, or physical therapists. Remember, this is a league with a 100 percent injury rate. A March lockout also means that healthcare for players and their families is officially cut off. One player's wife had her pregnancy induced last week so it would be covered by the NFL's health plan.

Second, only one side is negotiating in good faith. The NFL owners claim a dip in profits, despite the league's leviathan-sized success, but refuse to open their books and prove it. It boggles the mind. Imagine sharing revenue with someone in any business and your partner doesn't let you see how much you are actually making.

In addition, Judge David Doty ruled yesterday that the NFL owners were not acting in good faith when they struck a deal with the television networks guaranteeing them $4 billion in event of a lockout. Doty even said that the NFL had left network money on the table in return for this lockout slush-fund. You have owners crying poor, yet they happily forgo money in return for a lockout war chest. Clearly they went to the same top business school as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Lastly, calling this "billionaires vs. millionaires" is a ridiculous act of moral equivalency where none exists. Here's the reality. You have thirty-one of the richest people in the United States — people with generational wealth, people whose children's children will make Tucker Carlson look like Big Bill Haywood — going against a workforce with careers that last just 3.4 years. It's a workforce that draws almost exclusively from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. It's a workforce that will die more than twenty years earlier than the typical American male.

And last I checked, no one except the seriously maladjusted, go to games to eyeball the owner's box, no matter what megalomaniacs like Jerry Jones think. The players are the game, but they are being treated like pieces of equipment.

This is happening for one reason and one reason only. The owners want to show the players who is boss. But it won't just be the players who get hurt.

As Drew Magary wrote on deadspin—a website no one will confuse with thenation.com,

"Make no mistake, if you don't get to watch football next fall, it will be because 31 rich a- - - - - - - (and whatever cheese-and-sausage co-op owns the Packers) have decided that they aren't rich enough. Period. Think about that. Think of everything that will be impacted simply for the sake of these 31 people... By the time the fall rolls around, there could be massive layoffs across all teams: secretaries, equipment managers, trainers, everyone. People who are decidedly NOT wealthy and who stand to gain nothing from any of these talks.... Regardless of how this s- - - plays out, starting tonight, this is all 100 percent the owners' fault."

Magary could have added that it will affect every stadium concession worker, every restaurant worker, every last person who, in these dyspeptic times, depends on the stadium to eke out a living.

The NFL Players Association gets that they need solidarity from working people to win. That's why they have issued statements supporting everyone from the public sector workers in Wisconsin to the trade unionists of Egypt. They know what side they're on. I do too. The fact that Barack Obama doesn't see it that way only convinces me more that the players deserve our support. The historian Howard Zinn wrote famously, "You can't be neutral on a moving train." The train has left the station.

[Dave Zirin is the author of “Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games we Love” (Scribner) and just made the new documentary “Not Just a Game.” Receive his column every week by emailing dave@edgeofsports.com. Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.]

16 Reader Comments | Add a comment

It's not difficult to take sides in this fight

The owners need to open their books, and prove they really are in trouble financially, or just shut up and let the games be played next year. MLB has been claiming poverty for years, while not opening their books. We all know why they won't open their books. They have something to hide and that is all the money they are making for themselves.

Open The Books

Just to echo Rick's statement, it would b nice for some transparency but words like that are just thrown around to make people feel better or just to get some votes. If we had a real media in this country then maybe we would hear things such as that but sadly the owners and media are in lockstep with one another in every facet of society not just in sports.

More action less statements

If there is a prolonged pro football stoppage, I'll be content to watch college football where the collusion is more spread out. As far as the NFLPA needing solidarity from the working people to win this is just polititcal grandstanding . Has the NFLPA ever authorized a sympathy walkout in support of striking workers? I don't think so. "Statements of support" are just that statements.When the players strike in support of teachers,nurses,etc. I'll be impressed.

And for DZ to continually mix the NFL lockout with the Mideast is ridiculous. Athletes in the Mideast could be imprisoned or shot for being on the wrong side of the fight. This is not going to happen Aaron Rodgers or is it? You be the judge.

Frank, Maybe The NFL Will Get...

...Wiki-leaked so we can finally get a close up look at the inter-workings of these teams we're supporting with tax payer funded stadiums. Would be great if that were to happen if this does turn into an owner lock out. Then watch all the tax payer supporter leaches in the suites at the stadium start belly aching about their "trade secrets" being violated. The "secret" to their success is no secret. Find a government at the state and local level to be a sucker and build a new stadium for their team. The team gets to keep all the increase in the equity of the team after the its market value is spiked by the opening of the new stadium, while the public gets to pick up the bill for the owners. It's a free gourmet meal for the owners at tax payer expense.

Frank, Maybe The NFL Will Get...

...Wiki-leaked so we can finally get a close up look at the inter-workings of these teams we're supporting with tax payer funded stadiums. Would be great if that were to happen if this does turn into an owner lock out. Then watch all the tax payer supporter leaches in the suites at the stadium start belly aching about their "trade secrets" being violated. The "secret" to their success is no secret. Find a government at the state and local level to be a sucker and build a new stadium for their team. The team gets to keep all the increase in the equity of the team after the its market value is spiked by the opening of the new stadium, while the public gets to pick up the bill for the owners. It's a free gourmet meal for the owners at tax payer expense.

moral obligation

The owners have a moral obligation to the players and the union in seeing that they get the best in what healthcare has to offer in combatting the uncharted area of brain injuries.

Solidarity

If the NFLPA wants solidarity from working folks, they need to show some solidarity to working folks. Perhaps they can demand, as part of the next CBA, that all the uniforms, equipment, etc. be made by unionized workers from the United States.

Poormouthing

I'm still waiting for the first NFL or MLB owner to sell a team at a loss.

the people...

SO, since all this non-sense began, this is exactly what I have been thinking about, yet nobody has been saying it. The effects that a strike will have on economy's across the nation will be devastating... From street vendors to people who work in restaurants or sports stores, etc... I love football, but if a strike happens it will take a long time for me to support the NFL again...

NFL issues

It's pretty simple. NFL cut a fat hog, and they want more. Not content with Anti-trust exemptions, with stadiums built to their specifications, but not on their dime, they are closing in for the kill.
Newsflash! Football is not a "must-have" activity for the majority of the population, who if they still have jobs, are looking over their shoulders nervously. I would suggest, to paraphrase George Carlin's solution for the golf courses - turn them into housing.

The economic piracy practiced by the banks and Wall Street was perfected by the NFL owners. It's time that we stopped running our country like a bad episode of the Sopranos.

Lockout

Since the owners promise huge economic benefits to the taxpayers who pay for their stadiums, does that mean that if they refuse to provide the product, the cities can then sue them for breach of contract?

Lockout, Not A Strike

"...if a strike happens it will take a long time for me to support the NFL again..."

The owners are threatening to lock the players out. The players want to keep on playing. It's the odious position of the owners that is the cause of this conflict.

and then there's the taxpayer-funded stadiums...

i lost interest in pro football - football, really - a long time ago, and large part of it is because of the owner's greed. If the owner's lockout the players, and nobody who depends on working at public-financed stadiums is going to have a job, will the owner's pay back the cities that put up the money? What do you think?

A little bit of level-headedness

I have no doubt that between the two factions, the players are in the right with this situation.

That being said "millionaires vs billionaires" is spot on. Are the owners getting richer on the backs of the players? Well, yes, yes they are. That concept isn't restricted to the NFL. That happens in corporate America. I don't see anyone getting up in arms to help the non-unionized minimum wage earners.

Everyone talks about "the average NFL career is 3.5 years". Okay, but based on 2007 league minimums, those 3.5 years turn out a salary package of about $1.5 million. Yes, you have to pay taxes, and you have an agent, a lawyer (if you're smart), and an accountant, but if you don't go out and buy a multi-million dollar home, and don't buy a $100k+ vehicle, you can put a lot of money into investments. Then, when the career ends, most players can go out and, oh the horror, get a job to provide for their family for a decade or so.

The loser in this equation is the fan. Plain and simple. Take the $1 billion, figure out how many season ticket holders you have, then take that number and put it into 1 billion. That determines an amount per head, then each club is given the per head amount for each of their ticket holders. It's up to the clubs to determine if they want to refund the money using a tiered system based on length of holding, price of seats, or some other factor, or if they just want to give everyone the same amount.

Yes, pox on the owners and the players. I watched a little UFL last season, and if I can remember to check the schedules this year, I'll probably watch and support UFL more this time around. If the season is shortened because of this fiasco, then I'll likely quit caring about the NFL and hope the UFL grows bigger and more prevalent.

NFL Owners Acting Like Arrogant Double-Dealers

Team owners are exhibiting the traits of too many of the wealthy people in this country, "It's all mine and you little people should be happy with the crumbs I give you." While this is a battle between labor and management, it reflects what is happening across all sectors of our society. The elite are trying to take everything they can from us and break us down to the level of "serfs." It is only by sticking together, as the people of Wisconsin are doing, that we can back these tyrants off and stop their encroachment on our boundaries. I guess Marie Antoinette didn't go away but just waited for the chance to try again!

What A Scandal!

"There's the implosion of the Ohio State's vaunted football program over several hundred dollars in tattoos and hair cuts in return for signed varsity jackets...."

Oh, what a "scandal"! The sanctity of amateur athletics has been defiled!

What a joke. The Olympics gave up its "amateur" charade a long time ago, and it's about time the NCAA did with big time football and men's basketball.

It's not enough for the NCAA to just compensate the players for the billions they help the NCAA and the broadcasters generate. When are the general student bodies of these universities ever going to benefit from this obscene commercial exploitation of the universities they are attending? The loot the NCAA and the broadcasters make off of football and men's basketball should be helping provide tuition relief to non-scholarship students as well.

16 Reader Comments | Add a comment

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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