Sunday, August 23, 2009

Fun With the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement

Here's a pretty good article about the current state of negotiations between the NFL Players Association and the NFL Owners from the NY Times. I wanted to scrawl some knee-jerk reactions to the article, but decided to perform a little research in hopes of fleshing things out for our loyal readers. Well, after some additional reading I still just have knee-jerk reactions, but they are now based on both the NY Times article and some poking around I did on the internet.

First, I elected to take a peek at the existing NFL collective bargaining agreement, which you can find at the woefully lame NFL PA website. The fucking thing is 361 pages long. As much as I'd like to write a post that is erudite and compelling, I'm not fucking reading that document on a Sunday.

I will, however, skim that document on a Sunday. Especially to read Article XI entitled "Commissioner Discipline." If new NFL PA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith is worth his salt, he'll take a swipe at Commissioner Roger Goodell's unfettered discretion to mete out player punishments.

Goodell can punish players for conduct he deems "detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football." So, pretty much anything he, as representative of the owners, doesn't like. The player or NFL PA may then appeal the punishment, well...Goodell or someone Goodell designates. Goodell then issues a written final decision that is binding on everyone, period (including the teams themselves).

In a great demonstration of the distrust and insidiousness involved in player discipline, there is specific language preventing the Commissioner from increasing the penalty on appeal. Without being too much of a drama queen, that looks to me like some pretty despotic power vested in a dude who seriously influences the flow of a lot of dollars.

What's more, Goodell hasn't given us a much of an indication as to what standards he employs in punishing players. There is a reasonably interesting question presented by the different punishments of Plaxico Burress, Donte Stallworth and Michael Vick. The answer for those three gentlemen rests on differences in controlling laws for the respective crimes, but with player discipline the only control is Goodell.

Eventually Goodell will hurt himself because he hands out punishments without explanation. He'll misread public perception when concocting a future punishment, and will not be able to quell backlash by citing to a clear record. However, mitigating employee discipline is a core function for any union, and Executive Director Smith would serve his union by making this a collective bargaining issue and not waiting to benefit from a future Goodell misstep.

Second, I tracked down this press release from, by it's own description, about a year ago (why can't they just list the date it was released?). The release is from the NFL owners, and provides their initial public justification for opting out of a collective bargaining agreement that would have expired in 2012. Instead, the owner's would like to negotiate an agreement that expires in 2011, because, they claim, the economic realities of the game do not support current player salaries.

Financial records for NFL teams are virtually inaccessible, save for some limited information that leaks out after Owner requests for taxpayer-subsidized building projects and from the league's only "publicly-owned" team the Green Bay Packers (if there is more financial information, it is woefully inaccessible and under reported). The best demonstration of the "Owner Who Cried Wolf" I can come up with after some lazy and incomplete research is from that same Packer team.

The Packers recently renovated Lambeau Field for $295 Million in 2003. After five tumultuous years of post-construction financial uncertainty (sarcasm added), the Packers profited $20.1 Million dollars in 2008 despite spending eighty percent of "new revenue" on player costs since 2006 (from the NY Times article).

Any business with recent multi-million dollar renovations plus significant diversions to employee salaries plus $20 million in profits is a model business, and not one that should be considering hard bargaining to the point of a potential lockout.

If "new revenue" and "old revenue" still keep the franchise afloat, competitive and profitable, then suggestions of hardship based on player salaries should not be entertained by fans who spend significant dollars to attend games or support professional football as avid viewers (i.e. sponsor supporters).

The third point is a less important personal opinion: that professional sports' stand as an unfortunate proxy for understanding actual labor-management relations to most working class folks. Most media outlets make it easy to dislike organized labor in any form, and that dislike is easier to understand if economies of scale are out of touch with common economic realities. As a result, organized labor suffers from affiliation with professional sports. Here is how the current situation will provide fuel.

Evidence of the pending lockout from the NY Times is that Labor awaits a proposal, but management responds that they've conveyed proposals informally on numerous occasions. Proposals, by their nature, will be more effective if the proposee understands that an actual proposal has been proposed. In other words, the NFL Owners are delaying negotiations but pretending to have offered informal ideas that the other side should have understood as serious proposals to amend a meticulously crafted 361-page collective bargaining agreement (a little more sarcasm added).

NFL Owners will likely benefit by shortening the existing agreement and taking negotiations to the edge of a work stoppage. NFL Players will likely be demonized as the greedy actors who would destroy a commonly loved product for personal gain.

And that's the part that sucks: nuance will be lost because you'll lose access to your beloved NFL due to labor issues. Most folds will be too fucking pissed too care. A demonstration of union power will ultimately cost hours of Sunday afternoon entertainment, with no lip service paid to the actual need for an employee-based push back.

You'll probably end up antiquing on Sunday afternoons. It will be the fault of the union.


Muumuuman said...

So Goodell has Judge Dredd like powers to serve as judge, jury, and executioner. That's a very sound system for discipline. Hail Caesar! Side note, Matt "8-ball" Jones will not be suspended. He's white.

Andrew Wice said...

Hey, lay off Matt Jones. After all, he's white.

But seriously folks ... Barnyard, please make it your mission to continue to explore this complicated issue. Labor law/collective bargaining etc is not something that I nor regular IDYFT readers have time to untangle.

Let us know what's what, because the WORLDWIDE LEADER etc have their heads stuck in the sand.

Gnopple said...

I'm pretty much with you. Trying to make sense of it over at