The good news over the weekend is that the contract negotiations between the National Football League owners and the player union will continue for a few more days. The bad news is that the owners continue to threaten the players with a lockout. If the lockout happens that would result in another blow to organized labor because no matter what you think about the players' pay scale, they are workers and the owners motive is to break the union and make more money.
I recognize that many football fans know little about labor disputes and most likely do not know the difference between a strike and a lockout. Plus, I know that should the NFL lockout the players, most fans will blame the players and make uninformed claims that players make too much money and should be happy with the large salaries they earn. Well that is the purpose of this blog. Before you start passing judgment, I ask that you consider the following information.
Let me start with a fact that the NFL is a monopoly. An eight billion dollar a year monopoly and that figure does not include the other income received from the sales of NFL gear and revenue generated or saved by tax-free incentives given to teams by local governments. Yet, in spite of all their profits, the NFL is threatening the players with a lockout. The NFL’s game plan is to force the players to accept substantial cuts in pay, so the owners can use the money generated by television to build new stadiums, which in the past was subsidized by local taxpayers. However, now that taxpayers have caught on the NFL's game plan, they are refusing to subsidize the construction of these new stadiums, the owners want the players to take less money so the owners can use the money to construct new stadiums. Also, the owners want two more regular season games per year (so the broadcasting fees will go up) yet the owners are not willing to address players pensions and health insuarnce coverage, especially for former players who suffer from life-threatening injuries and long-terms illness.
By now you should be asking if this monopoly is legal? The answer is yes. It started in 1961 when Congress permitted the NFL to negotiate collectively over television broadcasting rights with CBS. Congress passed the Sports Broadcasting Act granting the NFL an exemption to antitrust laws. [See, 15 U.S.C. § 1291]. The justification behind the passage of this Act was to insure that the public could view football games on regular television over the airwaves. Okay, maybe that made sense then, but does it still hold true today?
For decades, the NFL's ironclad hold over the sport of professional football brought the owners truck loads of money, but then they wanted more. So in my opinion the NFL owners used its power to blackmail local governments into given the owners money by threatening to take their teams to other cities. In fear of losing a team to another city, the owners would bully local governments into delivering multi-million dollar stadiums subsidized with public money either directly or through tax breaks. Then if the local government does not play along, the team owner took the team to another city. For years the owners became rich off of the profits made by local tax payers building the stadiums. Now that taxpayers are not longer allowing their local governments to hand-out money to the NFL owners, the owners want the players to take cuts in pay.
But you ask what happened to the original reason for the anti-trust exemption? Does it still hold water? In my opinion the answer is no. Currently you can watch one or at times maybe two professional football game on Sunday mornings or afternoons over the free airwaves. Yet on Sunday night, Monday night, and Thursday night you need cable or satellite coverage to watch the other games.
Okay you say, what about the big money the player receive for playing the sport?True, the players make a lot more than the average worker, but at what risks? A player in the NFL has a 5% to 10% chance of contracting dementia, Alzheimer's or another cognitive disease that is related to concussions and traumatic brain injuries sustained during his brief years in the NFL. These figures may not include the other quality of life limiting injuries to the players’ bodies such as spinal and leg injuries that players must endure for the rest of their lives with limited or no health benefits to count on in exchange for an average career of three to four years of playing professional football.
Now again you say the physical risks they face go with the sport and the money they earn. True there are several million-dollar players in the sport. However, for each one of these franchise players many more earn the league minimum of $400,000 (and the NFL wants to cut rookie pay too). Moreover, these players usually end up cut or suffer a career ending injury that leaves them with no other marketable skills to support themselves or their families.
All I am asking is that you think about these facts before you start joining the sports talk radio jocks who complain about the high pay of the football players. Plus, should the NFL hire “replacement” players for next year’s football season remember these facts.