by Armon Gilliam
For New Pittsburgh Courier
NFL owners have opted out of the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players union and locked players out to the consternation of fans. I realize it is hard for the general public to have empathy for what amounts to a battle over millions of dollars being waged by billionaire team owners and millionaire players. The sentiments from various media outlets and comments on my Facebook page suggest that players are greedy, spoiled millionaires that only want more money. Yes, the players are being paid astronomical salaries compared to what the average American is making. Does that mean, however, what the players are negotiating for is an expression of greed? Before you answer that question please consider the following.
NFL players spend countless hours developing their bodies, studying the game and honing their skills so they can perform at a high professional level on the field to the delight of fans. I believe the super human effort that players muster up to prepare their minds and bodies for the rigors of a grueling season are fueled by a deep love they have for the game. One cannot give so much of their life, endure so much pain, train so hard, and risk serious injury every time they take the field unless there is an authentic love of the game that is fueling their actions. As such, it is the players that make the NFL such a great spectator sport. Having said this, the contributions of the team owners who invest billions to provide the venues, marketing and to secure television deals that give players many platforms to showcase their talents, cannot be teased out of the equation.
The entertainment value that fans get from the performances of the players is immeasurable. Yet on a financial level, there are some tangible measurements that need to be taken into consideration. Let’s face it; fans are paying billions of dollars to feed the NFL animal that continues to grow in size. Since fans are saying with their wallets, even in these very tough economic times, that they greatly appreciate the performances of players, the owners bargaining stance needs to be called into question. After all, an unwillingness to grant players an equitable distribution of ever increasing revenues and demanding that players play two more regular season games while exacting a reduction of pay is not an even handed approach to negotiating with players. Furthermore, the brazen refusal of the owners to fully disclose their books so “substantiated” revenue amounts can be looked at with honest eyes, is clearly an affront to good faith negotiations.
NFL football is a sport that has four invested partners; owners, business partners, players and fans. The NFL is a multi-layered business that generates $8.5 billion annually. Therefore, each business partner is deserving of their fair share. Players getting fair market value for services rendered and receiving their fair share of profits from a prospering business is the American way. Although most Americans understand this concept, the stark reality of the great disparity between player’s salaries and what average Americans make, is causing a knee jerk reaction. You would think Pittsburghers, because of the strong union presence here, would rally behind a union that is trying to craft a better deal for its members. Yet from what I gather, the public reaction toward the lock out ranges from a contempt for the players alleged greed to a lack of empathy for the players struggle.
The NBA, MLB and NHL have established some precedents in terms of what would constitute a fair CBA. CBA’s from other leagues speak to the subpar nature of the NFL’s CBA. Things like: players not having guaranteed contracts, owners wanting to extend the playing season two games and paying the players less, owners partially disclosing their financial standings, weak pension plan, and reducing the salaries of rookies, to name a few, are only evidenced in the NFL’s CBA process. To add insult to injury, the owners opted out of their contract with players so they could craft a new CBA that would give the players a smaller percentage of the league’s expanding revenue.
Players want to be treated as equal partners that receive their fair share of the billions of dollars generated during a NFL season. It is reasonable for players to bargain for a respectable CBA that is on par with other professional sports. In the past the players union leadership bargained for a fair CBA with little temerity. When the reality of players missing paychecks and the public perception problem arose, the union acquiesced and settled for menial advances. The new NFL players union leadership team, led by Kevin Mawae, seems determined not to make the mistakes of the past.
They appear to be moving in a new direction that will equate to a semblance of fairness and equity. They are negotiating with a temerity and sound business acumen that was not present in past negotiations. They are also doing a good public relations job which should enable them to stay in good standing with their fan base. All of which suggests that the NFL players union is closer than ever to securing a fair and equitable CBA for its players that is on par with other professional sports.