NFL players, what are you doing?
That’s all I keep wondering as I scroll Twitter. When it comes to players, their union, the NFL Players Association, and the proposed collective bargaining agreement that they’re voting on this week, they’re just putting too much of their business out in public.
I am pro-players in virtually every instance. In myriad ways, they get the short end of the stick. There’s very little guaranteed money for lower-level guys. The franchise tag is entirely unfair to those who are saddled with it. They can be punished (or not) based on the decision of one man. And until recently they were made to feel as though a head injury would mean the loss of their standing or even their job.
Times like now, when you’re in negotiations for a new labor agreement, are exactly the time to get some of those things.
It’s not the time to be airing your grievances on social media for pretty much anyone to see.
Look at this week. Sam Acho, a reserve linebacker with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season who was one of the men running for NFLPA president, tweeted a video saying that the proposed deal was good for “the other 99%” of players in the league, not the one percent he said have “the loudest voice.”
Among the comments under Acho’s video is fellow veteran NFL backup Robert Griffin III, who wrote “the divide and conquer tactics are exactly what the other side wants...If we as players work to improve the overall economics of the deal, everyone benefits. The 1% and the 99%. It doesn’t have to be either or.” He added a couple of other points about the deal in subsequent tweets.
Acho responded to Griffin and it wasn’t an acrimonious exchange. But why have it in a public forum at all?
A big part of the problem is timing. The NFLPA sent membership the proposed CBA last week, a 456-page document laden with legalese that’s difficult for pretty much all of us to digest without help. But this is the one part of the year where players don’t have to be at their facilities. OTAs are coming soon enough, but scan the social media pages of a good number of players recently — Tom Brady, Von Miller, Devin and Jason McCourty, Patrick Mahomes and others — and you’ll see they’re enjoying life with their families on vacation.
At this time of year, there won’t be any team meetings for each team’s union reps to answer questions and explain the pluses and minuses of the proposal, and even planning a video chat in place of a face-to-face gathering would be hard.
Sure, some people read romance novels or murder mysteries on vacation, but a book-length labor proposal is not many people’s idea of a relaxing read.
But having the ballots go out now was the union’s doing.
Eric Reid tried to do his fellow players a service when he asked his attorneys, the ones who helped he and Colin Kaepernick get a settlement from the league in their grievance cases, to go through the CBA. The lawyers emphatically advise that players vote no, and in three pages summed up the problems with the agreement for players and why it’s largely yet another win for team owners.
Reid has been one of the most vocal objectors to the proposed CBA, but on Wednesday morning he also brought up one of the biggest reasons why NFL players are where they are.
Invoking the name of his best friend, Kaepernick, Reid notes that if players didn’t come together to protest Kaepernick’s blackballing by team owners after the quarterback’s quiet, legal protest during the playing of the national anthem, it showed owners again that the players won’t unify for anything.
Take the reason for Kaepernick’s protest out of it, Reid wrote. It’s the principle that matters.
“If you’re a player & fighting [for people] who are being oppressed in this country isn’t your fight, then so be it. Don’t kneel,” Reid said. “But if you’re a player & you watched [Kaepernick] get blackballed & are now wondering why the CBA is an utter disaster, then you really shouldn’t be surprised.”
If you’re a player & fighting 4 ppl who are being oppressed in this country isn’t your fight, then so be it. Don’t kneel. But if you’re a player & you watched @Kaepernick7 get blackballed & are now wondering why the CBA is an utter disaster, then you really shouldn’t be surprised— Eric Reid (@E_Reid35) March 11, 2020
“Utter disaster,” obviously, is a subjective notion.
Reid’s overriding point, though, is correct: NFL players won’t stick together for the greater good. NFL owners stick together — they made sure to get an opt-out into the 2006 CBA that they used in 2011 — locking out players and getting a new CBA that reduced the percentage of revenue that went to players when they believed players were getting too big a share of the pie.
(Players need more pie because they’re the ones who actually play the games we’re all sitting in stands and in front of 55-inch televisions to watch, but don’t tell someone like Jerry Jones that he isn’t the star.)
NFL owners make sure they get what they want. They leak information through the cable network the league owns, things like the current proposal being a “take it or leave it” deal and other tidbits that make it sound like players are ungrateful if they don’t accept what’s being offered.
Few people have ever said something like that and not backed down when met with resistance. That’s the definition of negotiation.
Players have leverage, especially in this case. The NFL is pushing for a long-term deal now so it can assure networks it will have labor peace for years as it begins negotiations on new contracts, contracts that are worth billions per year. Players should be using that to get more of what they want.
It’s easier to get 32 owners on the same page than it is to get over 1,900 players to agree on something. But players have supposedly been preparing for a showdown for a couple of years, and instead, we see infighting on social media and one player who has long been involved in the union, Russell Okung, taking legal action against his union, accusing it of bad-faith negotiations.
And now it looks like the fortress they wanted to build to try to land real gains — a 50/50 revenue split, elimination of the franchise tag and/or lifetime health insurance, heck even the ability to opt out after five years — is going to fold like a house of cards in front of a window fan.
No one gets everything they want in a labor negotiation, and there are some positive gains in the proposal players are voting on, such as players becoming eligible for a pension after three seasons instead of four.
But this is a time for a united front, not 280-character public disagreements about which players do and do not gain the most.
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