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Let’s Be Clear: NFL Players Smacked Down the Owners

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As you may have heard, the NFL lockout ended just a short time ago, and since the TV commentators I’m hearing seem to be confused about who actually came out on top, let me give it to you straight. I’ll repeat my words in this space on April 27: “I think I can clarify it for everyone — the players have won.”

And let’s be even clearer. The players won, for all intents and purposes, back in April with the court decision that forbade the league to be paid TV money even if no games were televised.

You’ll recall that in 1987 the league put on scab games with second-rate players, and the TV networks stupidly paid them the money from the regular contracts, as if there were real players out there under those helmets.

What just happened? Here it is in a nutshell: The owners, after netting $9.3 billion in profits last year, demanded up front that the players give back a billion to pay for the new stadiums, which you — the fans and taxpayers — had become smart enough not to pay for. That demand also would have cut back on the health benefits that cover concussions and other injuries, benefits the players were, very sensibly, asking to be improved.

This whole thing wasn’t about greed, it was about the owners’ greed. As with every strike or lockout in baseball, football, basketball or hockey, it was all about what the owners were demanding from the players, i.e., how much they would give back. The players demanded nothing up front.

The media seems a bit unsure about this. ESPN’s Ashley Fox summed up much of the confusion: “Call it a tie,” she wrote a while ago. “Each got a little something they wanted, and most important, each will get a lot of money. The owners now will keep 52 percent of the revenues, not the 47 percent from the pervious collective bargaining agreement that so rankled them. But they will also have to operate with a $122 million salary cap, with an additional approximately $20 million for benefits . . .”

Sorry, this is not a tie.

The owners were seeking to bust the union, and they failed completely.

The smaller percentage from the revenues is more than made up for by the expansion of the salary cap, so the players lost nothing in salary and had their medical benefits expanded. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who has been running around like a chicken with his head cut off for the past few months, giving interviews and writing hysterical editorials about how, if the players succeeded, it would be the end of football as we know it, is now able to stand in front of a microphone with the players union head, DeMaurice Smith, and act as if they’re all one big happy family only because Smith and players let him.

Let’s be clear about something else: This is a union victory. Many in sports media have been fond of saying that the lockout was “simply a disagreement between billionaires and millionaires.” Well, the millionaires in many cases are billionaires because of the effort of those millionaires, and the millionaires were not born that way but have become wealthy because they held together as a union and preserved their right to bargain collectively. And it cost you — the fans — absolutely nothing.

What we now have is a Collective Bargaining Agreement that will guarantee peace for the next 10 years. And we got it because the players held together and refused to be bullied.

Good going, fellows. For the first time in your athletic careers, you’re heroes for something besides what you did on a football field.

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