NFL Lockout: Why Taking the Owners' Side Is Ridiculous!

Gerald BallCorrespondent IApril 14, 2011

Bengals owner Mike Brown
Bengals owner Mike BrownRob Carr/Getty Images

Let me step back a bit.

Of course this is a dispute with two parties, both of whom have their own legitimate arguments, and the owners do have some.

Such as a small market team's ability to remain competitive and avoid a situation like Major League Baseball, where there are only a dozen competitive franchises with the rest as cannon fodder.

There are also some absurd demands, which the players do have.

Such as their bizarre expectation for the owners to pay them huge salaries AND provide for their retirement AND medical care. Furthermore, the owners are ridiculous for demanding an 18-game season, even as a negotiating ploy.

The players are right to object to an NBA-style rookie cap when NFL careers, especially for tailbacks, are so short.

Instead, my issue is with the folks who are simply siding against the players because they listen to Rush Limbaugh and watch Fox News.

As a result these folks are in the "we hate all unions, all the time, unconditionally" camp.

These people do not seem to know that it is because of unions that a) companies can no longer fire people without cause, b) companies have to pay a minimum wage, c) companies have to provide a safe workplace, d) companies have to pay overtime, e) companies cannot punish whistleblowers and f) full-time employees have access to medical insurance etc.

I am not a union apologist.

Quite the contrary, I have never been in a union in my life, and there are certain unions that I loathe, such as the unions for teachers, doctors and nurses.

But it is very easy to be "pro-union" after they spent much of the last decade making sure that companies can no longer ruin your health by forcing you to work 80 hours a week under unsafe conditions only to fire you with no compensation because your body is shot and you can't work anymore.

Even if you are someone who is absolutely dedicated to laissez-faire capitalism and bought tickets to the "Atlas Shrugged" film months in advance, you must realize this fact: the typical labor union bashing does not apply to the NFL.

Why you ask?

Well most jobs, from blue collar to even professional positions, can be filled by any number of people. Whether you are a welder, pipefitter or software engineer, there are at any given time about a million people who could do your job capably enough if they had the right training.

Also, the success of your company usually doesn't ride on having the best machinist, middle manager or forklift driver in the business.

Instead, all you need is someone who can perform his job duties competently and you and your business are fine. When running a large or even moderately sized business, there is no added value to having the best machine operator or floor manager there is.

Most of your workforce is interchangeable (so long as you don't have to replace them all at the same time!) with any number of people who either have or can attain the necessary skills and training. 

This is where non-professional athlete unions act as a detriment.

They try to get their members compensation that is in excess of their actual economic worth (if not salary then retirement and other benefits) and also attempt to reduce and eliminate competition from those who are perfectly willing to do their jobs for less.

Case in point, the AMA's (American Medical Association) longtime practice of maintaining a physician shortage by limiting the number of medical schools created or the teachers' unions lobbying for laws that require an education degree or equivalent to work in a public school.

Now again, bash those unions all you want, but they are not analogous to the NFLPA or any other union for big league professional athletes.



The NFLPA is about 1800 guys who generate $9 billion in revenue. So while it is harder to become a doctor than a tailback (in an academic/intellectual sense) and teachers are more valuable to society than safeties, no doctor (unless he/she has a patent on a medical device or something) or teacher plays a role in generating anywhere near as much revenue as an NFL player does.


Not only are there lots of teachers (as many or more in a single school district as there are players in the NFL) but many people COULD be teachers if they desired to, especially if union rules were removed.

And while other occupations are more select (doctors, lawyers, architects, engineers etc.) the same principle applies: there are lots of them and producing or obtaining more could be done if there was a need.

Not so with NFL players.

Where there are 25 million people (just a random number that I threw out) that could become web programmers if they had the desire and opportunity, it is ridiculous to claim that there are any more than a few dozen human beings on the planet capable of being an NFL starting quarterback.

Even if this is only so because 99 percent of the folks on the planet who could be one didn't have the opportunity to play high school and college football.

If the 30 guys (indeed, if that many) who are actually capable of playing quarterback in the NFL were to decide that they would rather go fishing, the NFL would become nonviable and the $9 billion that the NFL generates is gone.

If the guys who block for these QBs and the guys these QBs hand off and throw to decide that public sanitation is their life's passion, the NFL will suffer.

So, this isn't hundreds of thousands of assembly line workers driving General Motors into bankruptcy with ridiculous pension demands that grotesquely inflate their economic worth. Instead, this is a few hundred guys that generate billions who honestly deserve a fair piece of it and are wise to leverage every bit of their economic value to win as many concessions as they can get.

Of course, the players can't run the NFL and its franchises and generate revenue like Jerry Jones, Jerry Richardson and Art Rooney (Mike Brown and Bill Bidwill not so much!), but the fact is that without the NFL players, these owners don't have a product and will have to go into another line of business.

That is what separates the NFL (and professional sports in general) from all other businesses: talent cannot be replaced.

In fact, the players are much harder to replace than the owners.

Of all the captains of industry in this country, with its many people worth billions or hundreds of millions, getting 32 guys that can run—or quickly learn to run—a football team is much easier than finding the next All-Pro left tackle.

Give Bill Gates the Kansas City Chiefs and they'd do fine, or at least as well as they are doing now.

It would be as simple as hiring someone other than Vinny Cerrato or Charlie Casserly as your GM, and someone other than Herm Edwards, Jim Mora, Jr. or Josh McDaniels as your head coach.

Ironically, the very thing that makes the players so valuable—their small numbers—actually makes the owners less valuable and important.

There are LOTS of moneybags out there capable of running an NFL franchise. And,unlike other businesses, at the end of the day ONE of those moneybags is going to get to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

Even if by virtue of being less incompetent, less of a meddler, or simply more lucky than the other 31.

That is why this idea that the NFL should have the right to opt out of their CBA, impose on the players whatever terms they choose and players should accept it, couldn't be further from the truth.

Those who claim "that's the free market system that made this country strong" and "if it weren't for football these guys would be minimum wage employees" are also misguided.

What is really distressing is the double standard.

There is invective, anger, frustration and even rage over football players wanting a bigger piece of the $9 billion that they generate and working conditions that they feel are fair.

On the other hand, there is almost no such vitriol against Hollywood! Big time movie stars, movie directors, TV producers and musicians actually make far more money than athletes. They have longer careers and work with less risk to their immediate and long-term health.

This is despite the fact that many of them have no discernible talent or skill, even as entertainers (i.e. mediocre acting or singing skills, and that is being kind), and often are..well, not so bright or educated.

And unlike top football athletes, they are totally replaceable! American Idol has proved that there are tons of great singers, songwriters and performers out there. And the TV and movie industry would actually be BETTER if it rebooted with a bunch of new actors, producers, writers, directors and all round better talent.

In addition to American Idol, lots of people with actual talent have gone from being YouTube sensations to Hollywood stars, and there would be even more of them if Hollywood actually hired on merit.

Yet none of the rage being directed at NFL players with great talent and skill, who actually generate revenue, is ever aimed towards Hollywood types who go on from one failed movie/TV/recording project to another.

Even the companies that produce them don't care about the flops anymore because they are conglomerates who can just write it off. So why does this double standard exist, especially since Hollywood is also not immune to labor disputes?

Bottom line: if you are going to take sides in this dispute, let it be because of the merits.

Such as a legitimate belief that the players are getting too much of the $9 billion, and some owners are not making enough money to be competitive, or enough to justify the hassle of owning a professional sports franchise.

Even then, these are problems that could be addressed through a better revenue sharing model or moving NFL teams from low-revenue markets, like Jacksonville, Cincinnati and Buffalo, to high-revenue markets like Los Angeles and San Antonio.

Or, force owners like Mike Brown and the Wilsons—who lack the money to make their teams competitive—to sell to better-funded ownership groups. That, however, is another issue for another day.

You "pro-business" folks do not seem to realize that this lockout is driven in no small part by a cadre of owners who are convinced that they should be guaranteed a minimum profit no matter how poorly they run their franchises year after year.

Let me say that if you are a Bengals fan, you should root for the players to get a deal that would force Mike Brown to sell the team.

Incidentally, Mike Brown didn't earn the money to buy the Bengals in the business world, but rather he simply inherited the Bengals from his father, who actually knew something about football.

Don't let it be because of some reflexive right-wing "business good, unions bad" nonsense that you are regurgitating from talk radio, the Wall Street Journal or Fox News.

Because even if that economic philosophy is true in general, it does not apply to the NFL!


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