When an offensive or defensive line of a football team stands shoulder to shoulder, it is almost impossible to move it. Today, two National Football League (NFL) players came to the AFL-CIO Young Workers Summit to invite their fellow union members to stand with them in one of the toughest battles they face on or off the field.
The 32 super-rich owners of the NFL teams terminated the current collective bargaining agreement two years early because they say “it isn’t working for them,” Domonique Foxworth of the Baltimore Ravens and a member of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) executive committee told the young union activists.
But in a scenario all too familiar to other union workers, the NFL owners refuse to provide audited financial information to help the players’ union understand how they are hurting after generating $9 billion in revenue during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Foxworth said:
We’re in the middle of the biggest battle with the team owners of the National Football League that our union has faced since we won the right to free agency over 20 years ago.
Like most management these days, the owners are demanding givebacks, this time to the tune of a staggering $1 billion, although not one team has lost money. In fact, all 32 teams increased in value about 500 percent over the past 15 years, Foxworth said. The owners also want players to pay for team travel and the cost of running the practice facility.
But money is not the only issue, Foxworth and Stephon Heyer of the Washington Redskins said. In a sport with an average career length of just 3.4 years because of the physical toll on their bodies, players only get five years of health care after they retire. As Foxworth said:
[That is] if we’re lucky enough to play three full seasons. And no one would argue that facing a guy like Stephon [who stands 6-feet-6-inches tall and weighs 330 pounds] puts one’s health in great jeopardy every second on the field!
The billionaire owners also have proposed restructuring the retirement plan to push all the risk onto the players. Foxworth told the group of young union leaders and activists:
We’re blessed to play football for a living, but this battle is a stark reminder to us that football is a brutal billion-dollar business; the owners are management, and they see us as revenue-generating widgets. We have to fight to protect ourselves in careers that usually end before we’re 30 years old but leave us with injures that endure for the rest of our lives. We are not complaining, but explaining to you why we understand how crucial union strength and solidarity is.