The Looming NFL Strike: Get Ready for Clueless Coverage


Why is the looming NFL strike different from all other strikes?

Well, first, it’s not a strike, it’s a lockout. Or at least it will be on March 4, when the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the National Football League and the player’s union expires and the owners padlock the gates.

Apparently most sportswriters are rusty when it comes to covering sports labor issues – or perhaps they were never taught that much in the first place – so they don’t know the difference. There’s a big difference, and even some veteran sportswriters don’t seem to know it.

Here’s the Daily News’ Gary Myers, one of the best football writers around, back on January 28: “[NFLPA DeMaurice] Smith needs to keep about 2,000 players in check, while [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell only has to worry about 32 owners.”

Myers doesn’t seem to understand that this actually gives a big edge to Smith: he can communicate with all the players through the press while Goodell must constantly be making calls to and answering calls from his employers – which is what the NFL owners are.

Moreover, few members of the sports press seem to understand that if they locked the players out, the owners will have done much of Smiths’ work for him. Nothing unites union ranks faster than management telling them they can’t go to work.

Actually, there is one thing that unites union members more quickly: health care issues. The points of contention in this upcoming labor strike couldn’t be simpler. In a nutshell, the owners want to cut one billion dollars from the revenues now being paid to the players while the players want more money spent on health care. This would seem not to be an unreasonable request: under the current CBA a player must put in three full seasons of service just to qualify for five years of health care, but anyone who has followed recent studies knows that it take more than five years to cover all those concussion and shattered knees.

Also, and this is far from a small matter, the owners want to add two full games to the regular season (by eliminating two preseason games), which means that the possibility of injury will be even greater.

So far there doesn’t appear to be much room for compromise on these issues. The union asked for the owners to open their books to justify such a huge cut, and Goodell replied, “We’ve already given them enough financial information.” Besides, says Eric Grubman, the NFL’s Executive VP of Business Operations, “We are not losing money. We’ve never said that. But we don’t have a healthy business model.” Exactly what that means has yet to be defined. All that the players know for certain is that at a time of unprecedented prosperity, the owners are opening negotiations by demanding a billion dollar giveback.

If NFL management continues to press on this point, in all likelihood, sooner or later, it’s going to bump up against the National Labor Relations Board when a complaint of unfair labor practices is filed by the players.

You might recall this is exactly what happened in 1995 when U.S. District Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor ended baseball ‘s last work stoppage when she decided that MLB owners were not bargaining in good faith and issued a preliminary injunction that put the players back to work.

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