The NFL and the NFL Players Association are at present preparing all the ingredients for the next labor dispute, which is scheduled to come to a full boil in 2021, when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires.
It will by all accounts be a fairly banal labor dispute, concerning the same thing these things always concern, which is to say the percentage of earnings that are distributed to players and ownership. The players want more, the owners don’t want to give it to them, and so there will probably be a labor stoppage that is already putting us all to sleep.
Except that after getting their butts kicked the last time this came up, in 2011, the players this time around are taking a more aggressive early posture.
Specifically, union president Eric Winston of the Cincinnati Bengals says the players don’t care about the future of the NFL.
“Honestly I don’t care and I don’t think the guys in this locker room care whether this thing’s going to be around in 20 years because none of us are going to be playing. … Another work stoppage might kill the golden goose. ” Winston said.
Here’s a clip:
And here’s a video of the whole interview with WCPO-9 in Cincinnati:
This is the sort of hot air you get in a lot of negotiations, especially at the beginning of them. I doubt very much that most NFL players don’t care if the league is gone in 20 years. I’d also have to be convinced that “we don’t care about the future” is a position that advances the goals of the Players Association in this situation, or generally.
But it isn’t just the conditions of the CBA Winston is upset about. As he says in the interview, he doesn’t think fans identify with the perspective of the players when they’re in labor disputes with the NFL.
My personal theory is they think they have a stake in the team. … Most fans have a boss and are working men too. But they don’t look at this the same way. They don’t look at issues the way we look at issues, as wages, hours, working conditions, health and safety. You could talk about the same thing in a coal miner’s meeting as we do in our meetings. … I think fans look at the team and say that’s their team, they have an ownership of that.
He’s obviously right about that. Fans identify with franchises. They also don’t really care how much money the league makes, or the players make, or about much of anything beyond that the games are being played and their team is winning them. Winston relates his situation to that of unionized coal miners, and on a philosophical level it is the same. It’s just tough to play the put-upon laborer when, as in Winston’s case, you’re making $1 million this year. People only have so much outrage to spread around. Besides, organized labor disputes are the sort of thing people watch football to avoid thinking about.
That’s a frustrating position to be in if you’re on that end of a negotiation table, as Winston is. And Winston says he’s encouraging young players to be socking away Strike Money as we speak. Because what sometimes breaks them down in the end is that the money flow slows up, but the bills don’t, and things get pretty urgent pretty fast. There are a lot more players counting on a lot more checks in the NFL than there are in the NBA or MLB, and regardless how much money you’re making, if you’re living at the edge of your means, you’re not going to be able to hold out long.
“We try to educate those guys as soon as we get ’em,” Winstons said.
It’s a smart move. The best way for the players to improve their negotiating position is to reduce their desperation and increase their stamina long enough to make the owners sweat. Without that, all the colorful rhetoric is just vapor.