Professional Sports labor Issues


As things are now, the owners shrewdly use the unspoken racial hostilities of fans against millionaires athletes of color in their favor. Instead of seeing the real picture (which is greed of wealthiest 1 percent), fans and outsiders lock in on the struggle as one of millionaires versus billionaires. This is shortsighted.

I interviewed a labor organizer and attorney and both offered valuable insights regarding NFL Lockout. On the labor side, William Lee explained that this situations parallels the plight of other workers in unions. However he cautions that the success of the industry is as important as the success of a team.  Lee cites the importance of being concerned with how the industry or football or basketball could suffer the plight of the auto industry. What folk seem to miss, says Lee, is that “Because athletes are making so much money it is hard for people who make $50,000, or are among the 11 percent unemployed, to care. Back when athletes made less and worked summer jobs people cared more.”

Although I agree with Mr. Lee that any industry or company must be reinvested in,  I am not certain the revenue must be derived from pockets of workers. William Lee is also quick to explain that, “With a billion dollar pot, players and owners must find a way to work things out; football is the most popular sport.”

Indeed, both parties should be able to figure out how to come to an agreement because they have the most popular sport.  I am willing to speculate that one big PR issue for players is that many working class folk despise how much athletes, especially athletes of color earn.  Perhaps this blinds them from seeing the salient issue:  athletes are, like many workers, are being exploited.

I am wondering why I have not heard more public outcry over the fact that owners want more revenue from the pot, reduced player salaries, and an 18 game season without paying extra. Perhaps Lee is correct that “People liked their star athletes when they were being exploited more” and thus had to work off-season jobs to make ends meet.”  Or maybe average fans do not like the hue of athletes to care enough to unite around the basic principal of exploitation.  It could just be that people too pissed off with being out of work or homeless to care and just want to have their sports distraction on Sundays, Mondays, and occasional Thursdays in the Fall.

The reality is that modern NFL players are in a unique position to be models for the union struggle because they have more leverage and they can make more demands because they are the face of many of the companies they work for. How they push and what they push for can inspire the direction of union struggles throughout the country–for decades to come.

Attorney Levell Littleton from St. Louis, dropped even more science on the situation. He believes that the ruling is legally accurate and will push players to settle soon.  And Littleton predicts players will submit to more demands than they should. “Legally” says Littleton, “The National Labor Relations board has rules in place that allow for the 8th circuit ruling to occur, despite the district court ruling in favor of players that the lockout harms players financially.”

Because most players, no matter how flashy they appear, do not earn the type of money Peyton Manning or Tom Brady earn, I believe that race does factor into blinding fans from seeing the financial harm the lockout presents to players. It also blinds many fans from seeing the larger union and legal dynamics of this situation. Littleton is also correct that “Players look bad because they have not gotten out the point that owners are being greedy, not the players.” Indeed the players have failed to align themselves with fans or labor movements across the country to evoke empathy and support.  This is depressing and unfortunate considering how many players come from working class backgrounds.

Smith, the union president who also happens to be African American, is holding a hard line, and will be blamed if things do not go well for players, AND if the players get a good deal. Goodell will get off clean and maintain respect of players and media.  Maybe race is a factor, perhaps it has nothing to do with what will transpire.  We shall see.

I hope that I am wrong but the capitalist of this era are fed up with the vast number of folk making money, which gives them the leisure to cause trouble. The NFL owners reflect the corporate trend of greed and closing the gap of haves and have nots.

Personally I am pulling for the Lockout to last the entire season so that fans can turn more attention to issues such as politics, discrimination, underfunded schools, families time, job creation, reading books to gain insights and knowledge, and increased work and decreased salaries.  They will have time: Sunday afternoons, perhaps some Monday evenings too.

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