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July 2011, Week 5

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Sat, 30 Jul 2011 15:42:50 -0400
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NFL Players Beat the Odds

By Dave Zirin
The Nation
July 28, 2011

http://www.thenation.com/blog/162260/against-all-odds-nfl-players-association-emerges-lockout-bruised-battered-victors

A SPORTS media consensus on the end of the NFL lockout
has already emerged. Like 6-year-old kids getting
trophies after soccer practice, everyone's a winner.

As Don Banks at Sports Illustrated wrote [2], thrilled
that the golden goose will lay eggs another day:
"Neither side got everything they wanted, but good
negotiations are like that. Now that this CBA fight is
almost over, and labor peace seems finally at hand,
both the players and the owners have the right to claim
success."

These parroted assessments, by focusing on the final
score, miss the true, overarching story of the longest
work stoppage in NFL history--at the opening kickoff,
the sides weren't close to evenly matched. I think that
what the NFLPA has done is the equivalent of the Bad
News Bears squeaking out a victory against the 1927 New
York Yankees. It's The Haiti Kid taking down King Kong
Bundy. It's workers, in an age of austerity, beating
back the bosses and showing that solidarity is the only
way to win.

When the lockout began, NFL's owners had, in their
judgment and, frankly, mine as well, every possible
advantage. They had a promise from their television
partners of $4 billion in "lockout insurance" even if
the games didn't air. They had a workforce with a
career shelf life of three to four years,
understandably skittish about missing a single
paycheck.

And most critically, they had what they thought was
overwhelming public opinion. After all, in past labor
disputes, fans sided against those who "get paid to
play a game." Owners wanted more money and longer
seasons and approached negotiations with an arrogance
that would shame a Murdoch spawn.

I remember talking to NFLPA executive director
DeMaurice Smith at the start of this process and
hearing his optimism in the face of these odds, as he
spoke of the bravery of workers in Wisconsin and the
people of Egypt who he said were inspiring him to fight
the good fight. He mentioned the books he was reading,
like the classic civil rights history Parting the
Waters: America in the King Years, by Taylor Branch. I
remember smiling politely at De Smith and thinking,
"This guy is going to get creamed."

I was very wrong. I didn't count on Judge David Doty, a
Reagan appointee, putting an injunction on that $4
billion lockout slush fund, taking away the owner's
financial upper hand. I didn't count on the way that
health and safety issues would bond the players
together, making defections among the 1,900 players
nonexistent.

I didn't count on the way many fans, upset at the
lockout and well-educated on the after-effects of the
brutality of the sport, would side with the players. I
lastly didn't count on the way that reservoirs of
bitterness felt by NFL players and the union would bind
them together against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
and an ownership group that had just lied to them once
too often.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

THEY STUCK it out, and now the end results of the
collective bargaining agreement look quite good for
players. We're looking at a 10-year deal in which
minimum salaries will go up 10 percent a year for the
life of the agreement. Players get a slightly lower
percent of revenues (about 46 percent, down from 50
percent), but they will receive 55 percent of future
national media revenue, which will mushroom in the
years ahead.

Teams also will now have to spend at least 90 percent
of the salary cap on actual salaries. In other words,
there won't just be a salary cap, there will be a
salary floor. In return, rookies will need to sign
four-year contracts that are scaled at a lower rate.
The net effect of all of this is that veteran salaries
will go up perhaps quite dramatically, and if players
can stay healthy beyond that fourth year, they will be
very well compensated.

But there's the rub. If the average career is only 3.4
years, how can players be ensured to stay healthy
enough to get the big payday? Here is where I think the
NFLPA made the most headway. Not only did they beat
back the owner's dream of an 18-game season, but they
also negotiated a much less arduous off-season regimen.

The off-season program will now be five weeks shorter.
There will be more days off. Full-contact practices are
going to be greatly curtailed. This matters because it
will limit not just the wear and tear on players'
bodies, but also concussions and other brain injuries,
which are far more likely to happen in repetitive
drills than in games.

Also when careers do end, players can now be a part of
the NFL's health plan for life. This is a mammoth deal
for players who previously were kicked off of all plans
five years after retirement. Getting private insurance
after playing in the NFL is a nightmare, as your body
is a spider web of pre-existing conditions. Retirees
also will now receive up to a $1 billion increase in
benefits, with $620 million going to increasing
pensions for those who retired before 1993.

Yes, owners received a bigger piece of the pie, and
yes, they received their rookie pay scale. Yes, I agree
with Brian Frederick, director of the Sports Fans
Coalition [3], who commented today that it's a problem
that "fans were forced to sit on the sidelines during
these negotiations, despite the massive public
subsidies and antitrust exemptions we grant the
league." This is especially true given the fact that,
as the coalition reported, "Thirty-one of the 32 NFL
stadiums have received direct public subsidies. Ten of
those have been publicly financed, and at least 19 are
75 percent publicly financed."

But in the end, this deal--against all odds--is a
victory for players, their families, their health and
their long-term financial solvency. It's also an
example for workers across the country. There is power
in labor and there is power in solidarity.

___________________________________________

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