NFL Players Need to Learn Lesson from MLB Counterparts: They Are at “War”

(The following is being syndicated from The Captain’s Blog).

They have chosen to start the war. They have fired the gun.” – MLBPA Executive Director Marvin Miller, quoted by AP, February 20, 1981

“We are at war!” – NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, quoted by The New York Times, January 22, 2011

As the NFL and the NFLPA careen toward what seems like an inevitable work stoppage, both the commissioner and players’ representative have engaged in a bout of public relations saber rattling. Meanwhile, major league baseball is expected to quickly come to an agreement on a new CBA when the current one expires in December 2011.

Not surprisingly, the NFLPA’s acquiescence to a salary cap has not mollified the owners’ voracious appetite for a larger piece of the financial pie. As a result, the lords of the NFL now stand poised to lock the players out if they do not once again capitulate to a series of adverse demands. If new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has anything to say about the process, however, things won’t be as pleasant for Roger Goodell and his band of profit takers this time around. The economics support the players’ position, so all that is needed is steadfast leadership.

Unlike past executive director Gene Upshaw, whose background was as a player, Smith is a bonafide litigator with 10 years experience in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Although he doesn’t have the labor background that Marvin Miller did when he took over control of the baseball union, Smith does seem to be cut out of the same cloth. Despite being criticized for his tough talk, he has not waivered in his public discourse. Ultimately, Smith will have to maintain unity among the rank and file, just as Miller did with his constituency, but if he can achieve that end, the NFLPA could emerge as a partner instead of an underling in the NFL’s financial structure.

The economic issues at hand are much different, and the relative size of the football union adds a greater challenge, but there are still lessons that Smith can learn from Miller. The chief among these, however, is the most basic. If the NFLPA is going to final win what is essentially a financial war, it can not be timid, and most certainly can not be accommodating. Even though the owners possess a massive war chest, their greed still makes them vulnerable. As much as the NFL chieftains would like to take a larger portion of revenues, they certainly do not want to relinquish the large sums of money that would be forfeited in a prolonged work stoppage. If the owners shut the game down for an extended period of time, they’ll be cutting off their nose to spite their face, and as much as greed can be a motivator for stupidity, multi-millionaires don’t get that way by turning off a steady steam of cash flow.

When it comes to this job, [Miller] remains my idol. He walks into a union that did not have a significant amount of information coming to the players, he had a very hostile reception from management, and what he brought to the players was the meat and potatoes of what organized labor unions do.” – NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, quoted by The New York Times, January 22, 2011

As baseball’s labor history has shown, owners’ resolve can wear thin quickly. What’s more, their veiled negotiating tactics are usually looked upon unfavorably by the courts and relevant government agencies. There has already been a crack in the union ranks, and some have criticized Smith’s reference to being at “war”, but the answer to that is to push forward with even greater resolve. Smith can not be afraid of a lockout. Marvin Miller never was. Whether it’s a war of words in the media or a war of ideas at the negotiating table, Smith needs to be on the front line fighting. He can’t worry about the harsh words that are likely to follow. Those same criticisms were levied at Miller, and now most people believe he merits inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

With selfishness being a natural human tendency, and so many players already “getting theirs”, most people, including the sport’s owners, expect that a lockout will be too costly for the players. The greater cost, however, will come from capitulating to a bad CBA. That’s the lesson the NFLPA has to learn, and that’s the challenge facing Smith. What would Marvin Miller do if he was leading the charge? He’d prepare for war…and that’s what Smith should be doing too.

26 thoughts on “NFL Players Need to Learn Lesson from MLB Counterparts: They Are at “War”

  1. I’ve never understood how the MLBPA, whose membership consisted of a very large percentage of folks that never went to college got it right almost immediately, while the NFLPA, almost 100% college attendees, still doesn’t get it.
    I understand a very large majority of the media is in lockstep with ownership any time there’s a disagreement, let alone a new contract to be forged. After all, didn’t Miller ‘ruin baseball’ 35+ years ago. (I still hear writers-and even a lot of fans-talk about baseball ‘needing’ a salary cap.) But I don’t understand how they had free agency and gave it back at least once before it was finally instituted. How they allowed a hard cap ever since, and how the owners have the union talking to NFLPA about an 18 game season.

    Union vs management is always a war, no matter what kind words are said after an agreement is reached. Owners want to be able to do whatever they want, and that rarely is in the best interests of the players.

  2. It amazes me how ineffectual the NFLPA has been in it’s existence. It has done nohting BUT capitulate in the past. For a sport that cfhews up and spits out people with life altering injuries the pension and health care procided are an absolute joke. The NFL is profitable, they have a hard salary cap, revenues are throught the roof and scab players just won’t cut it. Back in the day when the league was far less star driven it didn’t work, now that the NFL basically markets itself exclusively through the value of it’s stars it is an utter impossibility. The key is maintaining solidarity of course becasue history shows us that ownership is generally very poor at maintaining any solidarity/.

    Here here on your article, I’ve been a fan of the blog, but this blatant piece of pro labor union propaganda has won you a reader for life.

  3. When people in this country start understanding again that Investment and risk deserve a payoff, a big payoff and that labor(and or Government) deserves a fair wage but isn’t a Partner to what has been created, then indeed America can again become great.
    Even though Jerry Jones is an A-hole, if he invested the cash and took huge risk both purchasing and running a team and building a great Stadium, why should he be asked to to take the profits of that success and RISK and give them to other teams , so the players can get more money?
    That’s exactly the mentality that is making this a third world country.
    If Investors and entrepeneurs can’t strike it rich when they put in the time and risk their money, they stop doing so which is why there are no new jobs being created in this country.There’s no return on investment for creating those jobs, just future penalty.
    Poor Jamarcus Russell, he’s one of many underpaid NFL’ers.

  4. I love when I ead INSANE reactionry rhetoric like “THIS IS becoming a third world country” Not to mention the golden age of american capitalism and american power occured ONLY during the period of PEAK american labor power. The post war years featured the best worker protection, pay pactrices and union representation which was the main reason for the creation of our middle class. WHich incidentally allowed for entrepreneurs to become richer by expanding the American consumer base.

    What a fantastic point about the players being both Labor and the widget. As for risk. Large corporations and especially sports teams have benefited not only from anti trust exemptions but alos from the infrastrure(decidedly NOT third world) that this country provides. Cry me a river for the management class sir. It’s the degradation of american LABOR that is sinking this country by providing less and less people with a living wage with which to consume.

    As if NFL teams operate in some kind of free market? In an industry where the players ARE the product they have every right to demand at least a 50% share of revenue.
    America’s greatest years were the post war unionizing years. As for Jamrcus Russell? He makes peanuts compared to the vast majority of failed CEO’s who walk away with hundreds of millions in cash and options.

    Sorry sir but strong unions lift all boats and the NFL’s union has made nothing but concessions. The pay of RUssell is irrelevant. WHy focus on him and not the 90% of guys who mak are out of the league and out of a career in two years.

    I applaud this article and am so pleased with the responses so far.

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  7. I also disagree with the notion that baseball is more popular than football. I think the NFL is more popular simply because the NFL game translates to TV better than MLB.

  8. I think baseball is a very popular sport to attend, but isn’t nearly as appealing on TV due to the length of time between pitches. When I watch a game from before 1980, I see a game that quickly moves along and has a constant tension level because of it. (And it’s not like folks weren’t taking a lot of pitches in the 50s–look at those walk totals!) It’s just that the batter rarely steps out and the pitcher doesn’t spend a lot of time adjusting his cap (and belt and socks and etc). The umps letting guys like Mike Hargrove and Gaylord Perry slow things down like they did (not to mention the extra time between half innings for TV commercials) has changed the whole climate in MLB.

    Back to the NFL-I hope this guy’s the real deal, and that the players let him do whatever’s needed. I doubt it’ll happen, but stranger things have happened.

  9. I never said baseball was bet on more than anything else…

    All I said was that baseball is bet on AS MUCH AS ANYTHING ELSE (IE other team sports) I really wished you had actually read what I wrote because it is obvious you have simply skimmed, caught onto something you didn’t actually read in depth and took it out of context.

  10. As for the emotional angle, I can’t dispute your experiences, but mine have been completely different. At work and among my circle of friends, baseball talk centers around the teams we root for, but football talk centers around fanatasy, betting slips and knockout pools. I play softball on Sundays, and during baseball season, everyone wants to know what the Yanks and Mets are doing. During football seasons, you usually hear people asking about how many TDs Drew Brees has, or if the Bengals are winning by more than 10.  

    Because baseball doesn’t have fantasy? I hear people talk about fantasy baseball and I myself play in one every year, I don’t see the same number of fans in baseball as I do football, I really don’t see how something that affects both sports equally has to do with anything.

    Furthermore, the competitive balance issue you have talken about has proven to be a myth by several studies. Jayson Stark has done a good job pointing this out on several occassions. Despite a shorter schedule and six playoff slots, there really isn’t more balance. Of course, what you are calling balance I would call medicority anyway, but that’s another story.  

    You saying it’s a myth doesn’t make it so…

    Almost every team goes into the season with a chance at the playoffs, how many teams in this upcoming season can say that? You can’t give the Pirates, Royals, Indians, Orioles, Mariners a chance at the playoffs this upcoming season but in the NFL you had 4 teams make the playoffs that didn’t make it in the previous season and 2 of those teams were picking in the top 6 of the draft the previous year… How many times does a team go from picking top 5 in the draft and make the playoffs the following season? In the NFL it happens every year.

    Last year the worse team in the NFL was the 1-15 Rams and this season that team finished 7-9 which is a huge turn around, the worst team in 2007 was the 1-15 Miami Dolphins and the following the year they made the playoffs at 11-5.

    You can’t make turnarounds like that in the MLB or the NBA so how is that a myth?

    More power to the NFL for building it’s popularity, but in my opinion, it has become less a sport and more reality TV that you can wager on (kind of like American Idol meets the NCAA Tournament).  

    Your bias shows through in this statement and in fact in your whole argument, the case you have presented is little more than fans watch baseball and scrubs watch football and even if that s true (which it isn’t) it still isn’t a valid defense because whichever sport is followed the closet by the most eyes (for whatever reason) is number one in the country. The day of baseball ruling the land is long dead and it’s one of the reasons it took close to 10 years to get an MLB network when the NFL Chanel has been around since 2003, that is an argument for one being more popular than the other but in some ways it shows that there wasn’t a demand for a copy cat network for close to 10 years later.

    You can argue that you like baseball more and will never see football being number 1 to you or your friends but it is number 1 with America at large and the average American at large would much rather watch or be at a football game than watch or be at a baseball game whether you want to warrant it as the number 1 sport or not.