NFL Lockout: What’s at Stake?

As anticipated, the NFL owners have locked out the players. The owners and players’ union could not come to an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and the National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA) decertified the union on March 11, in anticipation of the lockout. At present, neither group is budging and the negotiations have ceased since the decertification, leaving players and fans with an uncertain future.

This time of the year, the NFL is usually buzzing with teams trying to acquire draft picks or veterans in trades for the upcoming draft. Instead, players are suing the NFL under the Sherman Antitrust Act. The case of Brady v. NFL includes Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and top prospect Von Miller. The case is still being reviewed in court. There is another case led by retired Minnesota Viking Carl Eller, on behalf of all former players, Eller v. NFL. Retired players are suing because of the loss of health care insurance under the current lockout. The players’ suit says the NFL is denying them the chance to market their services and could result in the owners being forced to end the lockout. But it’s expected that the issue will be appealed and no end is seen in the near future.

One of the NFLPA’s demands is for the owners to show the audits of the past five years. In other words, if you claim you are “not making enough money,” prove it by opening the books! The owners, for all their hue and cry over the risks they take and rewards they therefore deserve, could finally make their point clear. Not surprisingly, the owners have steadfastly refused this offer. Left-wing sports journalist Dave Zirin speculates that it might be because “We don’t know if the audits would demonstrate that owners leveraged their franchises and then took a bath in the 2008 economic crash. We don’t know if individual NFL owners–like their MLB counterparts–lied to local governments so they could get more taxpayer cash for stadiums.”

During the negotiations, the players offered to accept the proposed cuts in exchange for the equivalent in partial ownership of the NFL teams. Considering the players gave $800 million for the new Meadowland Stadium in New York and $300 million for the new stadium in Dallas, it’s not unreasonable that they should own a share or two of the league. But the bosses have never been interested in sharing ownership and responded simply by saying, “My clients aren’t interested in being partners with your guys.” So much for the myth that workers and bosses are all on the “same team!”

One thing is certain: the lockout will have a negative impact on next season. Last year, football fans witnessed many teams play who clearly weren’t ready for the season. The jump from college football to the NFL is huge, and most players take several years before they start adjusting. Even if the NFL lockout ends before the season, rookie talent and team chemistry will be a sour spot on the season.

The economic impact of the lockout will hit all the cities the NFL has teams in. It has already impacted the stadium workers of the Buffalo Bills. The Buffalo Bills already announced pay cuts across the organization. The reason they gave is something all workers are far too familiar with: the need for a “program of shared sacrifice.” Of course, as in all other instances, there is no sharing. The bosses always reap the benefits while the workers do the sacrificing!

It is fitting that the NFL lockout started the day after Scott Walker’s anti-union law was  passed. There are many who view the lockout as merely a fight, as Barack Obama put it, between “millionaires and billionaires,” but similar struggles are being fought and prepared around the country. The bosses and their politicians have been using the crisis, and now the budget deficit, to wage a relentless war against workers’ wages, benefits and even basic rights. The NFL is no different. Even though the NFL has continued to generate record profits, the owners still want more from their workers–the players. And tens of thousands of support workers and small businesses stand to lose as well.

The labor battle in the NFL should be followed and studied by all labor supporters. The NFLPA has refused to accept cuts in pay, benefits and an extended work season. All trade unionists should be incorporating these demands into their own unions: no concessions! Workers should not be forced to take cuts in wages and benefits, especially when the company is making record profits and the bosses are getting lavish bonuses. Sound familiar?

An NFL lockout affects everyone. As James Park from the AFL-CIO wrote, “In fact, 150,000 workers would feel the impact, and $4.5 billion in revenue would disappear from 32 cities around the nation.” It’s time to kick out the bosses and have a democratically run NFL. The Packers already have a model along these lines and they’re one of the most successful franchises in the league. The players and fans keep the game going, the owners are threatening to take the game down. It’s time for a nationalized NFL!


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