Even you—yes, you—can understand the NFL labor dispute. We channel our inner middle school teacher and break it down.
The dispute between the NFL owners and the NFL Player’s Association sounds scary and complicated, mostly because the words “labor talks” and “collective bargaining agreement” insinuate that in order to understand any of the legal mumbo jumbo involved, you must have at least three different post-bachelor degrees in sociopolitical economics. Funnily enough, however, the looming lockout can be boiled down to a few simple concepts, many of which we learned in history class.
The NFL owners are, more or less, those really fat people in the comics our history teachers used to help describe big business during the industrial revolution. These owners want as much money as possible and are generally half-human.
The NFLPA is simply the NFLPA. In the spirit of eighth-grade U.S. history, however, we can think of them as the American Federation of Labor, with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith acting as AFL big shot Samuel Gompers. You know you remember Gompers and his funny name. Like all labor unions that don’t blow up things, the NFLPA strives for fair working conditions in a rational manner. In 2011, striving for fair working conditions in a rational manner means being very mysterious and having ESPN try to interpret what you’re saying through a bunch of phone calls.
The NFLPA has simple aims. They wish to establish favorable wage standards so that their players can be compensated for what has become extremely dangerous labor.
In the spirit of 1880s sweatshops, the NFL seeks to extend the workday, or in this case, the NFL season. The NFL wishes to add two more regular-season games to the schedule, thus giving players two more chances a year to suffer a concussion. Understandably, the long-term health of your employees comes second to two extra weeks of television revenue.
The NFLPA wants a better pension plan because too many NFL players go broke shortly after retiring. NFL owners continue to ignore this issue, citing that they need to make enough money to buy more top hats (read: pay for unnecessary stadiums). They’re also taking money away from starting salaries (rookies) to buy more top hats.
In simplest terms, the NFL, like all other sports leagues—other than MLB, which has a governmental exemption, likely due to their universally high hot dog quality—is in violation of trust laws. Due to the concept of a draft, a professional sports league is one of the few workplaces where the most qualified candidates are not allowed to decide where to set up shop when first entering the workforce. Imagine being the valedictorian of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and, instead of working for Goldman Sachs, you are drafted by the finance equivalent of the Buffalo Bills.
Knowing that lack of regulation makes them king, the owners didn’t have to cater to the demands of the NFLPA, mostly because there was no legal equivalent of Ray Lewis to stop them. That was, until a judge stepped in and scared their pants off.
Ironically, the NFLPA’s only defense to this laissez faire policy—outside of a new collective bargaining agreement—was to destroy itself, which will allow players to sue the NFL. After a deal wasn’t reached by the 2:00 p.m. deadline yesterday, the NFLPA dissolved itself. Yes, with the NFLPA no longer an actual organization, the prospect of a Supreme Court case involving Chad Ochocinco is a distinct, very likely possibility. And yes, we are as frightened as you are.
Until then, make sure to encourage all top-hat owners to stop selling top hats until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.