Bosses’ Lockout? Nationalize the NFL!

This is the time of the year when football fans of teams that suffered heartbreaking losses in the playoffs begin to wonder what joys/miseries the next season will bring. But the saying “there’s always next year!” isn’t so simple in 2011. That’s because the NFL owners are threatening a lockout for next season. The head of the players’ union, when asked to rank the odds of a lockout from 1 to10, gave it a 14.

The 2010 NFL season kicked off with a re-match of the controversial NFC championship game between the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints. The game didn’t live up to the hype, with a low scoring 14 to 9 game. But the highlight of the night came before the game even started. Players from both teams came out and raised their index finger to send a clear message to the owners: “we are one.” As well-known  left-wing sports writer Dave Zirin said about the players’ statement: “In a country where unions are ignored when they’re not demonized, it was perhaps the most widely-seen, collectively experienced display of labor solidarity in the history of the United States.”

Nonetheless, for most workers it’s hard to sympathize with the players when it comes to their salaries, even if they are fans of them as athletes. NFL players make an average of $700,000 a year, compared to the average worker making $40,000. Players like Randy Moss think they’re under appreciated when they make over $6 million a year, while millions of workers don’t know how they’ll pay the rent if they lose their jobs.

Workers have become used to the bosses making an exorbitant amount of money, so they tend to look past the owners’ makings and focus instead on the bloated salaries of the top players. But the average salary is skewed by the high income of a handful of players, and most players only play for 3 or 4 years, having dedicated their entire lives to that point to be good enough to make it in the big leagues. After their bodies are used up, many of them have few prospects.

The NFL is the most profitable sport in the country, with  $9 billion worth of revenue for the 2009 season. There are 6 billionaire NFL team owners among the 400 richest Americans. This includes Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, who made the bulk of his wealth as an owner. The “capitalist bible” Forbes magazine showed that the average NFL team averages $31 million in profits every year, and over the past 15 years, the value of teams has increased 500 percent.

So why would the owners risk turning fans off and not raking in the usual big bucks in 2011/2012? Simple: they want even more money! They already have contracts in place that will guarantee them billions in licensing and broadcasting fees even if no games are played next season.

In addition, the owners want to push through an extension of the season, to make even more profits. The NFL expanded from 14 to 16 games in the 1978 season and if the bosses have their way, it will soon be up to 18. So much for their concern about players’ safety! The average NFL player lives to just 55 years old, and brain problems like dementia are becoming more and more common. Being a football player is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country, with a virtually 100% injury rate. Most fans don’t get to see the day after a game, where most of the players can barely move from the beating they took in the last game. An extra two games would mean more injuries and fatigue by the time the playoffs begin and two more games of potential injuries with lifelong effects.

For this reason the players’ union is pushing for life long health insurance for all players. As the head of the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), DeMaurice Smith, put it: “So you take a guy who graduates from college at 21, 22, the average career is 3.6 years, let’s say he plays four years. Players are retiring at the ripe old age of 26, 27. Five years of health care coverage and everything after that, every injury you have is a preexisting condition.” NFL players, along with all workers, deserve to have free health care insurance from the cradle to the grave.

But there is more jobs at stake than just the players as DeMaurice Smith explains: “We also try to remind people that if we get locked out, we have 30,000 people who work in our stadiums. They’re locked out. The concession workers and the people who are parking cars in the sleet and the rain for fourth or fifth job, they’re locked out. The bars and the restaurants that rely on football, they’re locked out. The families of our players that rely on the health care — no health care. I don’t really look at this as a battle between millionaires and billionaires. I look at this as a battle between 32 people who can unilaterally shut down our game, and America who digs it.” It’s not just football fans who would be affected by a lockout; it also affects all the workers who depend on the NFL for a job.

A lockout would create huge economic problems for the cities hosting NFL teams. The best example is Green Bay, a town of just over 100,000 people. The city would lose $200 million if there is no football next season. Jerry, an owner of a bar in the city, explained to his local NBC affiliate: “It’s a third of my business. It’s a third of a whole lot of businesses in the area.” For other cities it may not be as rough, but with a 9.3% unemployment rate, it would mean no jobs for thousands of workers in the U.S.

What we need to do, as fans and workers, is demand public ownership and control of all NFL teams. The public pays for the stadiums and supports the teams, why shouldn’t we own them? From Dallas to Pittsburgh, NFL teams have defined many cities in the country and niched out an important part of their history and identity. It’s time for them to actually belong to the cities and workers who have supported them all these years.

Decisions should be democratically made by the players, stadium workers, fans, cities, and states. All NFL jobs should be unionized. With the extra money going to state and local governments and the increased in revenue this would bring, we could make tickets and merchandise more affordable, give all employees union wages and fund other services needed in the city. The problem with the NFL is the same with all other businesses, the bosses run it in their interest and not the teams. Once they’re thrown out, we can enjoy the game played for the actual benefit of the team and city, instead of 32 wealthy individuals.

Nationalize the NFL! For a workers’ football league!


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