Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘NFL’

Everything That's Wrong With The NFL Is Wrong With America, Too

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Richard EskowSexism. A culture of violence. Untrustworthy leadership. Runaway wealth inequality. An indifference to workers’ health. Employees who are above the law. Hush-hush financing. Multimillion-dollar tax breaks.

We’re not talking about corporate CEOs or the Christmas parties on Wall Street. We’re talking about the National Football League.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of Ray Rice’s videotaped brutality has brought the NFL back into the public eye. It’s a sorry spectacle which others have addressed at length, so we’ll just repeat the cliché: It’s the cover-up, stupid.

For my personal assessment of Goodell, we can turn the mic over to Bill Simmons and UltraViolet.

As for the NFL itself, let’s just say it’s America in microcosm.

Capital in the 21st Century NFL

While the league’s finances are largely kept secret from the public, we know the following from public filings (form 990) and news reports (including a leaked copy of the NFL’s audited financials for 2010):

The NFL organization has 1,856 employees and paid $107.7 million per year in salaries last year. Goodell was paid more than $44 million. That means more than 40 percent of the organization’s entire payroll went to one individual.

Most of Goodell’s income was in the form of a “bonus” based on performance standards which, like that of many corporate CEOs, have never been publicly defined.

Roger Goodell is not a “job creator,” even by the right’s loose definition. He – like most corporate CEOs nowadays – invented nothing, made nothing, and built nothing. And the gravy train doesn’t stop at his house. Jeff Pash, the General Counsel, was paid $6,199,000. The EVP of Business Ventures got $4,180,000. The CFO made nearly $2 million. The EVPs of Operations and Human Resources made more than $1.6 million each. (Another executive, the EVP of media, was paid $26 million by an “affiliated” organization.)

All told, more than 54 percent of the organization’s entire payroll went to five individuals – the organization’s top 0.0027 percent. The remaining 43 percent or so was divided among 1,851 employees- the 99.9973 percent.

Now that’s inequality.

Government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich

The NFL doesn’t even make a profit – at least on paper. To the IRS, it’s a “nonprofit organization.” But “nonprofit” work pays well for some. The top guy’s salary has certainly soared in recent years:2014-09-25-Goodellpay[1]

A bipartisan bill called the “PRO Sports Act,” which would have ended the nonprofit status of the NFL and similar organizations, appears to have died in committee. It’s reasonable to assume that Goodell, the son of a Senator, had something to do with that.

Executives like Goodell – or, for that matter, bank CEOs like JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon – seem to be compensated more for their ability to influence elected officials than for their business acumen. On that score, at least, he’s been a good investment. In addition to protecting its tax status, Goodell’s NFL has brokered loans, bonds and tax concessions for its franchises.

Payback

The NFL had annual gross receipts of $184.3 million in 2010 – and that doesn’t include earnings for the individual franchises which own it. It reported $788,113,036 in total assets on the tax-exemption form which is its only public disclosure. It gave exorbitant salaries to its top executives – and it paid no taxes.

Goodell’s hypocrisy and apparent dishonesty is a shameful but very CEO-like display, one for which he’s not likely to be held accountable …

…that is, unless he becomes a financial liability.

But that day may be coming. More than half of those polled by Reuters/Ipsos said that sponsors should sever their ties with the NFL over its handling of violence scandals involving Rice, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, and other players. A number of sponsors have said they don’t want their ads running during games involving the Vikings or Rice’s former team, the Baltimore Ravens, according to  The Hollywood Reporter.

They say payback is a bitch. But in today’s America, the only payback that matters is counted in cold cash. If the day comes that owners are forced to choose between Roger Goodell and their own profits, the response will be swift and sure. The commissioner’s instant gratification will turn into instant karma.

Goodell will be fine, of course, no matter what happens. That can’t be said about most Americans. As for his accomplishments, well … Under his leadership the NFL fought reports of player head injuries for years. Its security apparatus and legal teams have intervened when its players are arrested, often for violent crimes, securing special treatment which ordinary citizens don’t receive. It has fostered a culture of misogyny, brutality, and amorality in the field of sport, whose stars were once considered examples for young people to follow,

Goodell’s football league isn’t an example for today’s corporatized America. It’s a reflection of it.

This blog originally appeared in Crook and Liars on September 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://crooksandliars.com/2014/09/what-s-wrong-nfl-wrong-america.

About the Author: Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

 

Retired Players Sue NFL over Illegal Drugs

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Laura ClawsonEight retired football players are suing the National Football League for pushing painkillers on them without legal prescriptions or informing the players of risks; another 500 retirees are seeking to join in a class action lawsuit. That the NFL willfully risked players’ health and that vast quantities of painkillers were involved is not surprising, but the seriousness of the injuries the painkillers were used to disguise as players were sent out on the field is shocking:

[Quarterback Jim] McMahon says in the lawsuit that he suffered a broken neck and ankle during his career but rather than sitting out, he received medications and was pushed back on to the field. Team doctors and trainers never told him about the injuries, according to the lawsuit. […][Offensive lineman Keith] Van Horne played an entire season on a broken leg and wasn’t told about the injury for five years, “during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain,” the lawsuit says.

Another player says he went an entire season so seriously injured that he never practiced—but played in every game.

The NFL, of course, remains mired in a concussion-related lawsuit with a judge having refused to approve a $765 million settlement, saying it was not sufficient, among other problem. Six of the players named in the current drug lawsuit were also plaintiffs in the concussion lawsuit.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on May 20, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

Tackling Political Speech in the Workplace: What We Can Learn from Chris Kluwe

Monday, February 24th, 2014

nicolasChris Kluwe was back in the headlines this week for his public support of Michael Sam, a top NFL draft prospect, who announced on Sunday that he is gay.  Chris Kluwe, a former punter with the Minnesota Vikings, claimed earlier this year that he was released from the team for his public support of gay marriage.

As high profile athletes, Kluwe and Sam command the attention of the media and the electorate when they speak up on important societal issues. Michael Sam has indicated that he will not engage in activism in support of gay rights and will choose instead to focus on his fledgling NFL career.

While I do not know him nor pretend to know his motives, I can’t help but think: is the fear of losing out on a high draft pick or not being signed by an NFL team driving his decision not to engage in political activity outside the locker room?  Losing a job should not be a concern that employees have when considering whether to engage in political activities outside the workplace.   Which brings us back to Kluwe’s situation and the question of whether the Vikings had the right to terminate him, assuming his allegations are true, for voicing his political views on gay rights?

With politics a part of daily life, it is only natural that the world of work and politics will collide.   Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for employees to be terminated when the political opinions within these worlds also collide.  Recently, Dick Metcalf, a well known gun journalist, was fired from his job writing for Guns & Ammo magazine after he wrote a column calling into question the absolute right to bear arms.

And take the recent case of Maria Conchita Alonso, a Latin-American actress, who was to participate in a Spanish language version production of “The Vagina Monologues.”  After voicing her support for a Republican California gubernatorial candidate, Tim Donnelly, she was met with fierce protest and basically forced to resign from the production.

The difficulty lies in how to draw the boundaries around protected speech so that the political beliefs and activities of both the employee and the employer are respected.  Employers will argue their own right to political expression and that they should be able to regulate disruptive political activity in the workplace.  However, employers should not have the power to make employment decisions solely based on the political activities outside the workplace.  An employee should simply be able to take a personal stand on political issues (rightly or wrongly) without fear of retribution.

Like Chris Kluwe, most workers who engage in political activity do so on their own time and outside of the workplace.  But without any statutory protection, employers are able to misuse their economic power to influence the political activities of their employees no matter where those activities take place.

Now, if Chris Kluwe played for the Raiders, 49ers or Chargers — all based in California — his right to political speech would be protected.  Two statutes (sections 1101 and 1102 of the California Labor Code) make it unlawful for private employers to retaliate against employees because of their political affiliations or political activities.  California seems to be one of the very few states that protects employees from retaliation for engaging in political discourse outside of work or while at work.

So where does our punter, Mr. Kluwe, stand?  As a result of his allegations, the Vikings are now investigating his claims and have interviewed Mr. Kluwe about his allegations.  However, there is no guarantee that the team will corroborate what he alleges.  And because he does not live in California, there is also no guarantee that the Vikings will remedy any wrongdoing.  While I hope that the Vikings will do the right thing, the natural tendency is for large employers and institutions to close ranks and do nothing to change.  We’ll see soon enough whether the Vikings decide to punt the issue or tackle the issue head on.

This article was originally printed on CELA Voice on February 13, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Nicolas Orihuela is a founding partner of the employment law firm of Hurwitz, Orihuela & Hayes, LLP and has been practicing since 2002. He represents employees in race discrimination, sex harassment, wrongful termination and disability discrimination related cases. He also handles wage and hour cases. Mr. Orihuela is a member of the California Employment Lawyers Association and the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, which are organizations dedicated to protecting the rights of employees and consumers. He is a graduate of Loyola Law School and Loyola Marymount University. While at Loyola Law School he served as a Staff Writer and Articles Editor of the Loyola of Angeles Law Review. Prior to founding Hurwitz, Orihuela & Hayes, LLP in 2007, he worked at Lim, Ruger & Kim, LLP where he handled employment matters, including wage and hour class actions, on behalf of employees.

The NFL Bounty Scandal Is a Labor Issue As Well As a Safety Issue

Monday, March 5th, 2012

Alyssa RosenbergIt’s awful to hear the news that the during their recent great years, the Saints were involved in a system that offered players bounties if they injured the players on opposing teams. The scandal is a setback for the NFL’s efforts to make football a safer, more sustainable game, showing that team and player cultures are fiercely resistant to that league-wide imperative. But it’s also a failure of the NFL collective bargaining agreement by the players who ought to be protected by it, and an illustration of the difficult web of financial incentives players negotiate.

The explanation of how the bounty system worked is a fascinating look at the financial stratification within NFL teams. The bounty system was organized by the Saints’ former defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams, and he kept running the system even after he was specifically ordered by the team to shut it down. But the bounties themselves were offered—and paid—not by the team but by Saints players to Saints players. And they worked as incentives because special teams players who are in a position to inflict those injuries make less than the teammates who offered them the bounties. And that doesn’t even always work out. As Deadspin pointed out, the fines Bobby McCray was assessed for a hit to Brett Favre probably cost him more than he made based on the report’s assessment of what he would have made in bounties.

But however complicated the financial interests are here—and even scarier than the fact the bounties were being offered in the locker room is the news that folks outside the team appeared to be ponying up money—it’s a worrisome illustration of how the league’s compensation patterns could make bounties seem worth reaching for, and could lead to them violating their own collective bargaining agreement. It’s hard to believe that the Saints or any other team would offer bounties in the expectation that they were the only team doing it. And if everyone’s ignoring the collective bargaining agreement’s ban on bounties, then everyone’s ramping up their own risk of being injured by participating in the system. I don’t envy the NFL and the players’ union the task of tweaking those incentives and enforcement to try to make the ban on bounties operative.

Especially since players are coming into the NFL after years of a training that incentivizes hard hits, even if there pride rather than money at stake. I do think that there is a difference between a reward for making a good play and a reward specifically for injuring someone. But I don’t know how meaningful that difference is. I love football, and I struggle with that love and my questions about whether the game as played can be made safer while still remaining exciting.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on March 5, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alyssa Rosenberg is a culture reporter for ThinkProgress.org. She is a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com and The Loop 21. Alyssa grew up in Massachusetts and holds a B.A. in humanities from Yale University. Before joining ThinkProgress, she was editor of Washingtonian.com and a staff correspondent at Government Executive. Her work has appeared in Esquire.com, The Daily, The American ProspectThe New RepublicNational Journal, and The Daily Beast.

Super Bowl Players Should Stand Up For Indiana Workers

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

waldron_travis_bioLast July, Major League Baseball blew an opportunity to make a difference. With 28 players who were either Hispanic or of Hispanic descent participating in the league’s annual All-Star Game in Phoenix, Arizona, and the eyes of the sports world watching, nary a one spoke out against the radical anti-immigration law Arizona had passed a year before, even though it could have directly affected the players and will directly affect many of their fans. “I ain’t Jackie Robinson,” David Ortiz, one of baseball’s biggest characters, said.

Over the next 10 days, the National Football League will have a similar chance to make a difference.

Just two weeks before Super Bowl XLVI kicks off at Lucas Oil Field in Indianapolis, more than10,000 people marched through the city to protest right-to-work legislation that is being pushed through the state’s legislature. The legislation passed the state Senate this week and the state House today, and is backed by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). Considering the NFL nearly lost its 2011 season, and Super Bowl XLVI with it, to a labor dispute, Indiana Republicans’ assault on workers is a cause the players should be familiar with.

Fortunately, there are signs that the NFL players aren’t going to repeat Major League Baseball’s mistake. Several players have spoken out against the legislation, and NFL Players Association President DeMaurice Smith said his organization is already taking action. “We’ve been on picket lines in Indianapolis already with hotel workers who were basically pushed to the point of breaking on the hotel rooms that they had to clean because they were not union workers,” Smith told the Nation. “We’ve been on picket lines in Boston and San Antonio. So, the idea of participating in a legal protest is something that we’ve done before.”

That’s a good first step. But it’s not enough. Indiana union officials are contemplating disrupting Super Bowl-related events to draw attention to their cause, clogging city streets and slowing down events around Lucas Oil Stadium (which was built and is maintained by union workers). Labor leaders are hesitant, though, fearing that such actions could give the city and their cause “a black eye” with people who think sports and politics don’t mix. If some of the league’s top players, particularly those participating in the Super Bowl, spoke in support of those efforts, however, that perception could change.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, one of the NFL’s most recognizable players, felt strongly enough about his own rights that he signed on as a plaintiff in the players’ antitrust lawsuit against the league last year. So did Logan Mankins, Brady’s teammate, and Osi Umenyiora, a prominent defensive end for the New York Giants. Those players were willing to risk backlash from the league, public scrutiny, and their own images to fight league owners for better benefits and wages. In the week leading up to the Super Bowl, they should do the same for workers who don’t have the luxury of multimillion-dollar contracts, rich endorsement deals, and the good fortune of playing a game for a living.

Sure, with Super Bowl week ahead of them, political causes may be the furthest thing from the minds of most players. But with thousands of reporters conducting hundreds of interviews before, during, and after the big game, the players will have the chance to stand up for the rights of people they should be fighting for. Unlike their counterparts in baseball, they shouldn’t blow it.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on January 25, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.

NFL Lockout Could Cost $160 Million, 115,000 Jobs

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Image: James ParksIf the National Football League owners lock out the players next season, not only will millions of fans not have games to watch on Sunday afternoon, but more than 115,000 jobs could be lost, according to a new study.

The 32 NFL teams employ on average 3,739 people each, including players, concession workers and office staff. If the lockout lasts a long time, layoffs are likely and many of those jobs would not come back, said Jesse David, senior vice president of the economic consulting firm Edgeworth Economics, who conducted a study of the impact of a lockout for the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). Check out a summary of the study here.

Not only are the players affected, but the jobs of more than 25,000 concession workers at stadiums across the country are threatened by the lockout. (See video above.)

In a telephone press conference this morning, David and NFLPA official George Atallah said each NFL home game generates on average $20 million for the team and the community. A lockout could cost each of the 32 NFL cities. as much as $160 million, they said.

“A lockout would have an impact beyond the players,” Atallah said.

We want to raise public consciousness of the effect [on communities] if the owners lock out the players.

The NFLPA has joined with the other workers in the stadiums and the rest of the union movement to fight management’s greed. Last month, the NFLPA announced that its members will fully affiliate with all AFL-CIO state federations and the central labor councils where their NFL teams are based.

The owners terminated the collective bargaining agreement two years ago because, they say, it isn’t working for them. But they refuse to provide audited financial information to explain what is wrong in a business that generated $9 billion in 2009 during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The owners are demanding that the players give back $1 billion, although not one team has lost money. They also want players to pay for team travel and the cost of running practice facilities.

On top of that, the owners have threatened to make the players pay for their own health care in case of a lockout. As it is, management provides only five years of health care coverage after players retire. Players’ NFL careers average only 3.4 years and many retire with a range of serious health problems. Not many people would argue that facing a 325-pound lineman running at full speed over and over could be dangerous to your health

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris

NFL Collision: Management Control vs. Player Safety

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Roger BybeeHere we have a multibillion-dollar industry. Where does their responsibility begin? Say you’re a kid and you sign up to play football. You realize you can blow out your knee, you can even break your neck and become paralyzed. Those are all known risks. But you don’t sign up to become a brain-damaged young adult. —Dr. Julian Bailes, neurologist who has studied football-caused brain damage

John Mackey is remembered as the founding president of the NFL Players Association union and a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. Mackey is generally seen as the best tight end in the sport’s history, combining an unmatched combination of strength, speed, and great hands hauling in passes from the Baltimore Colts’ legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas.

But now the past tense is often used when talking about Mackey, 69, who has been afflicted with concussion-induced dementia for more than a decade, reducing him to a shell of his former self. “John was a phenomenal athlete who defined the tight-end position and was a great leader,” recalls his long-time friend and colleague Ed Garvey, who formerly served as the Players Association director and masterminded the stunningly successful 1982 players strike.

The tragedy of Mackey was one of a string of highly-publicized cases that has eventually forced the NFL to end many years of intransigence on the issue, and come to grips with the debilitating brain damage resulting from the thousands of collisions players undergo thoughout their careers.

Watching the deterioration of Mackey has been particularly painful for Garvey, who worked closely with him in leading the NFLPA. “John was
a great strategist and a great orator who could inspire people,” says Garvey. “By the time he was done talking to players, they were ready to break down the walls to get to the bargaining table.”

NFL OWNERS ERECT BARRIERS TO DEALING WITH CRISIS

But the NFL owners erected formidable walls to deal with the issue of chronic brain injuries resulting from the constant high-speed collisions of NFL play and the frequent concussions they often produce. Repeated concussions result in memory loss, depression, disorientation and moments of uncontrollable rage.

Admitting the syndrome of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) —manifested in dementia, the early onset of Alzheimer’s, and episodes of bizarre and anti-social behavior—drew fierce resistance for years from the NFL and its owners. The NFL used panels of doctors utterly lacking qualifications in brain physiology to deny and minimize the effects of concussions, much like how the lead-paint industry systematically concealed the devastating effects of lead poisoning on children.

GAME PROMOTED ON BASIS OF ITS VIOLENCE

All the while, the league was actively promoting the game on the basis of its violent collisions, “smash-mouth football,”  and constantly-replayed “greatest hits”—often involving vulnerable players in mid-air being grotesquely speared helmet first and slammed to the turf, as Garvey points out.

Meanwhile, the players’ helmet surfaces became harder and harder, rendering them more devastating weapons, enhanced by increasingly larger faceguards as well. “Generally, it’s just evolved where helmets get harder and faceguards got bigger,” Garvey notes, with helmet-first contact stressed by coaches and more serious head injuries resulting.

Where football players in the early NFL wore only light leather helmets without face masks and therefore sought to avoid head-to-head collisions, coaches of the modern era taught and expected players to lead with the new super-hard plastic helmets in order to make the most devastating block or tackle possible.

The outcome has been an epidemic of concessions, as a hard collision sends the brain bouncing against the inside of the skull, with each concussion producing more and more damage.

ENORMOUS PRESSURE BUILDS ON NFL

Only under enormous pressure from former players’ wives and families, the public and Congress did the NFL begin to deal with the problem of brain injuries. Belatedly, the NFL finally responded to a mounting wave of bad publicity caused by the disabling and destructive impact on much-beloved former players like Mackey.

Only after appalling cases of neglect became public—like the immensely popular former Pittsburgh Steelers star center Mike Webster, a victim of brain damage after 15 years in the NFL who became homeless and eventually committed suicide—did the NFL begin to address the problem.

The league and the NFL Players’ Association finally initiated the “88 plan” – named after Mackey’s number. Under the program, the league provides $88,000 per year for nursing home care and up to $50,000 annually for adult day care. The NFL also finally adopted strict policies on monitoring players who had suffered concussions.

TOP-DOWN FIX: BLAME THE PLAYERS

This year, the NFL—led by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, Jr.—has imposed a top-down “solution”—targeting the conduct of players who use their helmets as weapons.

But this step means fining and eventually suspending players who are simply engaging in the high-impact hits which they were constantly trained to inflict from the time they were eight years old playing in kiddies’ leagues, through high school, college, and NFL training camps—always with the threat of being benched or cut from the team if they failed to hit with maximum force at every opportunity.

“The players are put in very odd position,” observes Garvey. They risk losing their jobs if they fail to deliver as much pain as possible to opponents, while the NFL continues to market its violence as a central part of its appeal.

Moreover, the player-centered penalties conveniently sidestep theresponsibility of owners and coaches. “Coaches know their careers depend on winning, and they will teach whatever it takes to win games under the present rules, ” Garvey says. With the hard-plastic helmets a powerful weapon to use in blocking and tackling, the coaches are bound to demand helmet-first hitting that leads to concessions.

OWNERS SEE PLAYERS, EVEN STARS, AS REPLACEABLE

The owners could scarcely be more removed from the pain of players and the suffering of families of repeated concussion victims, Garvey says:

For the owners, they seem distant from the process, like the war in Afghanistan with someone else’s kids are out there being hurt and dying. The owners are relatively unaffected. They just bring in another player.

As John Mackey used to say, if you think of the NFL as a machine, it has replacement-parts factories known as colleges like Ohio State and USC and Wisconsin all over the country.

With a plentiful supply of eager and talented young players capable of making the fans forget the damaged and discarded super-stars of just a few weeks back, owners are content to make minor changes and blame the players for the concussions they suffer.

But the activism of families and players is certain to produce a vastly different game. The culture is going to change,” predicts Garvey. “Players and parents are realizing these injuries could be lifelong. Millions of youngsters are facing long term injury under the present setup—it will be a strange moment if Congress says we’re not interested in this.”

The long-term solution lies not in unilateral changes laid down from above by management, but by dialogue involving players and medical experts and coaches. “If you take the best medical minds and bring in players and coaches, you could come up with a series of recommendations that are better than what  Roger Goodell and Wellington Mara’s kid have done,” Garvey says.

Such discussions would cover equipment like the helmets, rules regarding hits on vulnerable players and medications to help treat concessions, among other issues.

But owners have seen all efforts to improve safety as encroachments on their essential management powers, says Garvey.

The introduction of plastic “Astroturf” by agri-business giant Monsanto was supposed to reduce ankle and knee injuries compared to natural turf, while saving money on maintaining football fields, the corporation promised. But the players soon discovered that being knocked to Astroturf was like landing on a thinly-covered concrete surface, meaning that players’ heads would be smacked against a totally inflexible floor again and again.

Further, knee and ankle injuries actually rose, because if a player’s cleats got tangled in Astroturf, there was no natural “give” as with natural sod. “But there was no way we could lead people out on strike over playing on Astroturf,” Garvey remembers.

“When we first talked about Astroturf, [the owners] went nuts,” Garvey says. “They said that it’s their game and they will make the rules.”

Garvey vividly recalls a discussion with the late Cleveland Browns owner Art Model about Astroturf. Modell responded by pointing to a nearby asphalt parking lot and declaring, “If I tell my team to go play on that, they had better do it.”

“We got together a team of medical experts with players and the owners wouldn’t yield, but it got discussion started,” says Garvey. Eventually, the NFL came to discourage the use of Astroturf.

MANAGEMENT CONTROL ABOVE ALL ELSE

Essentially, the NFL owners have perceived the introduction of brain injuries and other safety issues as an intrusion on sacrosanct management prerogatives and a challenge to their customary dictatorial rule.

But by now, public horror over the fate of much-beloved heroes like John Mackey and Mike Webster and anxiety about their children’s long-term health are fueling a full-scale challenge that will inevitably crack the owners’ vise-like grip over decisions affecting player safety.

Moreover, with more and more medical research on football-caused brain damage coming forth outside the NFL’s control, the league’s responsibility for their players’ long-term health is becoming undeniable.

“The liability issue now just jumps out at NFL owners,” Garvey argues. “If juries start awarding huge awards to permanently brain-damaged players, then the NFL will really have to sit up and take notice.”

This article was originally posted on Working In These Times.

About The Author: Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. Bybee edited The Racine Labor weekly newspaper for 14 years in his hometown of Racine, Wis., where his grandfathers and father were socialist and labor activists. His website can be found here, and his e-mail address is winterbybee@gmail.com.

AFL-CIO: NFL Lockout Would Hurt Communities

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Image: James ParksThe Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints kicked off the NFL season in a show of solidarity Thursday night and the AFL-CIO has taken the field in the players’ behalf. In a letter released today, the AFL-CIO’s top leaders warned NFL team owners that locking-out players next season could create significant job losses off the field and cause a “spiraling impact on communities.”

In individual letters to each NFL team owner, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Schuler and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said football generates hundreds of thousands of jobs in stadiums and in the cities. They said a conservative estimate is that a lockout would cost thousands of jobs and cause more than $140 million in lost revenue in each NFL city.

We strongly urge you to think about the stadium workers, hotel and restaurant workers, and thousands of other working people who support [your team] as dedicated employees and fans.

The owners terminated the collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) a year early, claiming they were losing money. But like other employers, they refused to let the players’ union see the books that showed their financial condition.

In negotiations that have lasted more than a year, the owners continue to threaten a lockout and make demands for more work for less pay. Besides that, there is no guaranteed health care for players who are injured and players must play for three seasons before they are eligible for only five years of post-career health care.

This is significant because an NFL player’s career lasts, on average, between three and four years because of the physical toll on their bodies. A study commissioned by the NFL found that Alzheimer’s disease or similar memory-related diseases appear to have been diagnosed in the league’s former players far more often than in the national population—including a rate of 19 times the normal rate for men ages 30 through 49. The researchers found that 6.1 percent of former NFL players age 50 and above reported that they had received a dementia-related diagnosis, five times higher than the national average.

In the letters, the AFL-CIO officers said they will work with the NFLPA to let local elected officials in team cities and members of Congress know just how much a lockout would cost their cities. And, the officers said, where appropriate, they would call for hearings on the monies that teams got from taxpayers and the effect of the team’s non-profit status on tax revenues.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris

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