The NFL lockout is over!
At the outset, things did not look good for the players. There were worries about DeMaurice Smith, the new executive director of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), having to learn the ropes during first labor standoff since 1987. Another question mark was the potential for solidarity. During the 1987 strike, it was star players like Mark Gastineau and Joe Montana that crossed the picket to continue play. There were real beliefs that since players have short and precarious careers, some may split away and demand a quick end to the lockout. Add in the perceived public animosity against complaints of labor – especially ‘millionaire players’ and a television deal that would guarantee money to owners even if no games were played, it appeared that the union had little chance of success.
However, the players surprised everyone. The players won in court by proving that the television deal was indeed a lockout fund and thus prevented the owners from touching the money during the lockout. The public also rallied around the players once people saw the realities of the game. An average career for an NFL player is 3.4 seasons. Studies have shown that NFL players are dying approximately 20 years earlier and we’re seeing more research about the detrimental effects of hits to the head and concussions in long term brain injuries, dementia and chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a degenerative brain disease. But the most shocking aspect of this, the longest NFL labor dispute in history, was the intense solidarity amongst the players. They rallied around support of their interests in one voice.
The tentative collective bargaining agreement that ended the lockout was a huge success for the players. While owners got a rookie wage scale that limits rookie compensation, the players have almost guaranteed increased pay for veterans by establishing not only a salary cap, but a minimum spending requirement for owners across the league. The players prevented the regular season from being expanded from 16 games to 18 games got other significant gains in safety. Offseason activities were cut by five weeks, contact levels are limited at practices and players have received more days off to recover. Most importantly, players can now remain in the medical plan for life rather than the previous limit of five years.
Now that we have football back for this fall, let’s not forget that amongst the breathtaking bombs, screens, sacks and touchdown rushes, that the NFL players not only show what ability and focus can do on the field but off the field as well when they showed a shining example of labor solidarity and what can happen when united workers fight back.