Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vince Lombardi's players don't have a seat at the NFL lockout talks
Tuesday, 23 November 2010 07:32


Eight times a week, the life and legacy of Vince Lombardi is on display on the Great White Way in New York. Vince Lombardi is part of the National Football League's Mount Rushmore for his accomplishments as coach of the Green Bay Packers. Lombardi took over a bad team that was financially boosted in the mid 1950s by dances and fundraisers throughout Wisconsin (aided by the "arch-enemy Chicago Bears coach and owner George Halas) and turned the franchise into champions within three years of taking the job in February 1959.

Lombardi is now being canonized on Broadway in a way no other football coach ever has. But that Lombardi probably would have problems dealing with the football industry of 2010.

Lombardi's teams would win five National Football League titles and two American Football League-National Football League championships (neither the Super Bowl nor the Lombardi Trophy existed in 1967 and 1968 in name). Lombardi came of age at precisely the same time the National Football League exploded on the national scene. The NFL would ultimately become the most successful professional sports organization in the United States but Lombardi's players never did share the financial gains that NFL owners would see with every new TV contract that National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell would negotiate.

One of Lombardi's players who played on five NFL and two AFL-NFL championship games (and a Super Bowl championship team after leaving Green Bay) is now making $176.85 in his monthly pension. A player who competed against one of Lombardi's teams in the early days of the AFL-NFL Championship Game is getting $201.36 a month for 11 years of service. Another of Lombardi's guys, Jerry Kramer, is organizing a fundraiser to help his in need peers from the 1960s. One of the opposing players from the Packers hated rival, the Chicago Bears, Mike Ditka is trying to shame the league to help out his down-and-out peers from the 1960s.

The discarded and left-behind players from Lombardi's NFL of 1954 (when he began as a New York Giants assistant) until his death in 1970 should have an honored seat at the table divvying up the financial pie, but they don't.

There are more than 250 former players including 50 Hall of Famers who receive less than $200 a month in pension payments.

The National Football League and the National Football League Players Association are facing a March 3, 2011 deadline to get a new collective bargaining deal done. The prevailing thinking is that once the present collective bargaining agreement expires, the NFL owners will lock out the players on the 32 teams and a prolonged labor impasse will start.

The players who built the league and association starting in the late 1950s through those who played in 1992 have terrible pensions and need health benefits. Association Executive Directors Ed Garvey and the late Gene Upshaw seemed more concerned about getting players the most money they could for a contract and left out important details like good post career benefits like pension and health care.

A good many former or "discarded" players cannot get health insurance because they have pre-existing conditions. They don't have much recourse. NFL owners have no legal obligation to give them more money or provide health benefits. The league and the players association have been talking about taking care of the former players health benefits but the associations' turned down a deal that might have covered about 2,500 of 3,200 players because the association's reps didn't feel that TransAmerica would insure 700 of the discarded players because of pre-existing conditions.

Because some of the ex-players cannot get insurance, the one-time players are getting government assistance in dealing with football injuries through social security or Medicare even though some of them are under the age of 65.

According to former players, the proposal came from the National Football League not the National Football League Players Association. The "discarded" players don't trust the National Football League Players Association.

The NFL owners collectively bargained the pension plan and post-career medical benefit plan which isn't very much with the players association. The players association has failed the former players. The players association and the NFL Alumni Association have been battling one another and there seem to be a number of splinter groups that have formed trying to get discarded players some extra pension money and health benefits. Some of the splinter groups have forced the league and players association to come up with some benefits for the discarded players.

Meanwhile another precinct has weighed in on the current collective bargaining talks:


Somehow the National Football League Players Association and the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) are embracing one another even though the AFL-CIO rejected NFLPA overtures to join the labor organization in the 1960s. However, the NFLPA's Executive Director DeMaurice Smith sits on the executive council of the AFL-CIO. In September, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said he would talk with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Smith and work out a solution. The NFL said no because Smith is serving on Trumka's board.

But in the high stakes poker game between the owners and players, the AFL-CIO is getting involved whether the NFL likes it or not. The NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining negotiations figure to become the most politicized sports labor negotiations on record and there are reasons for that.

The NFL got two assists from Congress and the Oval Office, one in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy signed the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961, which allowed the NFL to bundle the 14 league franchises and sell them as one to a TV network. The second was when President Lyndon Johnson signed legislation allowing the National Football League-American Football League merger to take place. Both bills transformed the NFL from a step above semi-pro level to an enormous money-maker.

Two laws signed by President Ronald Reagan, the 1984 Cable TV laws and the 1986 Tax Act gave pro sports owners even more benefits which allowed them to make even more revenues. A wave of new and renovated stadiums replaced old NFL facilities because of the 1986 legislation, which capped a municipality's ability to take revenues out of a facility at eight percent. There are some variants to that law based on the lease agreements signed by an NFL owner and a municipality. There is also this. Louisiana gave New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson about $186 million between 2002 and 2010 as a thank you for not moving his team elsewhere.

The NFL-NFLPA talks are politically charged.

Manny Herrmann, the Online Mobilization Coordinator for the AFL-CIO sent out an e-mail to members last week even though the NFLPA is not affiliated with the AFL-CIO:

"Incredible news! Yesterday (November 18), the AFL-CIO joined a huge coalition to deliver more than 100,000 petition signatures to Capitol Hill, urging Congress to maintain an extension of emergency unemployment insurance benefits for long-term job hunters. We'll keep you updated on this critical fight.

"If you care about jobs, here's something else you should be worried about: the National Football League is in contract negotiations with its players and is getting ready to do a player ‘lockout.'

"If that happens, players won't be able to play, fans won't have a football season and local economies that rely on football will be devastated -- it'll mean more people out of work.

"Why is the NFL getting ready to lock out its own players and devastate its fans? One word: Greed.

"It is estimated that a lockout would impact 150,000 jobs -- and cause more than $140 million in lost revenue in each and every NFL city -- some $4.5 billion across America.

"If there's a lockout, stadium employees will be jobless. Sports bars, police officers, restaurants, hotels and various support staff who work supporting the game also will be affected.

"The NFL and team owners don't care what a lockout costs communities and fans -- they only care about their own profits. The NFL's set to make billions of dollars, even without a football season. But if they do that, players and fans lose.

"It is estimated that a lockout would impact 150,000 jobs -- and cause more than $140 million in lost revenue in each and every NFL city -- some $4.5 billion across America.

"If there's a lockout, stadium employees will be jobless. Sports bars, police officers, restaurants, hotels and various support staff who work supporting the game also will be affected.

"The NFL and team owners don't care what a lockout costs communities and fans -- they only care about their own profits. The NFL's set to make billions of dollars, even without a football season. But if they do that, players and fans lose.

"The NFL's greed is seemingly boundless -- they are demanding a number of outrageous wage and benefit concessions without justification. Here's just one example: the NFL wants to take ALL health care benefits from players and their families.

"An average football player will work for only three and a half seasons -- that's their entire career. But the health impacts from playing can include a lifetime of pain or discomfort -- and even brain trauma that leads to depression and suicide.

"How can the NFL make money without a football season? By rigging the system. They've already set aside $900 million that should've gone to players' benefits to cover their costs for locking players out -- and they've signed TV contracts that'll pay out billions of dollars even if no football is played in 2012.

"To save football next year, and to save jobs, we've got to take the NFL on and tell them locking out players and fans based on greed is unacceptable. If players and fans band together, we can shame them into doing the right thing.

"Please stand in solidarity with the players. Sign our petition to BLOCK the lockout. Make your voice heard to save the sport that you love."

The AFL-CIO numbers seem to be way off base in terms of real economic impact if there is a lockout. There doesn't seem to be 150,000 people in jobs that would be out in the cold because a football game isn't played 10 times in 21 weeks or 147 days (without playoffs) with the possibility of two home games at the most in the playoffs (in 21 days) in the city even if the host Super Bowl city and the Pro Bowl host city are added over a seven month period.

The economic impact is dramatically overstated. The players would suffer major losses and some team and league personnel would be laid off. But the AFL-CIO is right about one thing, the over-the-air, cable and satellite TV partners will fund the lockout which means that Rupert Murdoch's FOX, General Electric's NBC, Disney's ESPN, Sumner Redstone's CBS (and by association their news divisions) are lining up to support management along with DirecTV which might make some interesting conversation on the cable TV "news" sets.

Herrman's blast won't make the NFL owners want to rush to the bargaining table with Trumka. One former player isn't even sure why the AFL-CIO is involved. Dave Pear, who has been critical of the NFL and NFLPA and is one of the "discarded" players, wants to know, "how does the NFLPA get away claiming that we are part of the AFL-CIO? Where is the shop steward when there is a grievance? Somebody needs to write a letter to the AFL-CIO and ask some pointed questions."

Now the AFL-CIO wants a seat at the table. Before this is done, local elected officials, federal mediators, the National Labor Relations Board, the courts, Congress and even the Oval Office will weigh in but an agreement has to be reached by the two parties and the two parties have constituencies that will be heard, big market versus small market owners on management side and a whole host of parties on the players side.

This fight may get very nasty, very soon. It is a scenario that Coach Vince Lombardi, who didn't really want to play an American Football League (or Mickey Mouse) team in a championship game in 1967, could never envision as his Packers ran to daylight nearly five decades ago.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at www.bickley.com or amazonkindle. He can be reached at evanjweiner@yahoo.com

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 23 November 2010 07:32 )

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