National Football League players, although millionaires, need a union every bit as much as ordinary working people do.
The players are employees. They are property. They are replaceable.
The owners are their bosses. The NFL union fights against their crass capitalism. It insisted that the owners drop their greedy and callous demand for an 18-game regular season rather than 16. The players and union won.
The game is all about the players.
The owners may strut and preen. But most football fans know little about them and couldn’t care less about them if they treat the players fairly.
Fans impassioned about the game have to side with the players who put their bodies on the line. Their health and safety is paramount.
Players suffer injuries, maimings and early deaths. But coaches and team trainers and doctors often insist that they “play hurt.”
That’s why every NFL fan should get a copy of the sports edition of The Nation for Aug. 15/22.
Most sports fans disdain the leftist politics of The Nation. But this special issue is far removed from what The Nation rightly calls the “lapdog platforms of ESPN, NFL Network and Pro Football Talk.”
The magazine makes it plain that football kills--and sometimes leads to suicide of retired players.
Nate Jackson, former wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, writes: “the health issues of former players draw attention to a dirty little secret: when you sacrifice your body for the game your brain goes with it.”
Retired players face dementia and Alzheimer’s, Jackson notes, adding that they “have little control over their bodies. Players are risking long-term injury by rushing back on the field after being hurt.”
He concludes with a stunning statistic: “the average NFL career lasts just 3.5 years.”
David Meggyesy, former linebacker with the St. Louis Cardinals, and Dave Zirin, Nation sports editor, co-author a piece calling NFL football a sport with a “100 percent injury rate,” citing a welter of anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries and the dread hazard of concussions.
ACL injuries are what used to be called knee tears. (You need a medical dictionary to read the sports pages these days. A pulled muscle is now a flexor.)
Meggyesy and Zirin quote Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh Steeler all-pro strong safety, saying:
“A lot of people think it’s millionaires versus billionaires. The fact is it’s people fighting against big business. The fans come to see the players. Taxpayers build the stadiums. The one irrelevant element is the owners.”
What the NFL needs is more franchises like the fan-owned Green Bay Packers: 112,000 owners!
Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post, perhaps the best sports writer in America, was making the same points before the settlement. She denounced the owners’ idea that “players are undeserving of a larger share of the pie.”
Jenkins rightly said that the lockout was “a profound mistake, committed out of arrogance” and that the owners “incomprehensively demanded $1 billion in concessions from players.”
Jenkins is a far, far cry from the supercilious New York Times. Times columnist William Rhoden pontificates: “NFL players and owners are one and the same. Players, owners, sponsors and networks all sleep in the same bed.”
The Nation and Sally Jenkins give the lie to that. Don’t ever weep for the owners.
Ditto about NBA
Ari Paul, freelance reporter specializing in labor disputes, relates in Nation that the tactics of the National Basketball Association are similar to those of NFL owners.
Paul cites a lockout, a plea of poverty, “a misrepresentation of owners’ losses and so-called worker excess.”
The NBA is also all about the players, not the money-bloated owners. The fans want the games played.
Paul notes that the players have made concession after concession for years. But no longer. They insist on “a firewall against givebacks.” Paul also cites the shortness of the average pro career: 4 1/2 years.
‘A terrific thing’
Bob Herbert, former New York Times columnist, relates in The Nation the moving anti-racist words of his father.
Herbert was a black kid of 6 in 1951 when Bobby Thomson of the New York Giants hit the home run “heard ‘round the world.” Hank Thompson played on the same team..
Thomson was white, Thompson black. Herbert asked his dad if they were brothers. No, he replied, one spells his name t-h-o-m-p-s-o-n and the other without the p.
“It was years before I realized what a terrific thing that was to say to a kid,” Bob Herbert writes.