A House Divided: NFL, Players Association Feud Could Spell the End for Football’s Fortune

On the outside the NFL is the cash cow of the four major professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL). A recent study by Plunkett Research, Ltd. shows the NFL exceeds the other leagues in every monetary category. Football ranks first in overall revenue ($9 billion), operating income ($1,069 million) and average team value ($1 billion). The league has captured the attention of sports nuts as well, accounting for 23 of the 25 most-watched telecasts from Sept. to Dec.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been criticized heavily by the NFLPA, even in what was billed as a decade of labor peace.

The good times might not last much longer, however, if the league and players association can’t get along. Just like John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, this power duo is showing signs of a breakup:

First, there was the lockout. For 136 days from March to mid-July, the NFL and NFLPA sat on opposite sides of a debate on league revenue, the longest in league history. After a heated summer of negotiations, the pair finally agreed to a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement.

Next, benefits for retired players. Football is a violent game, and many players have experienced health issues after retiring from the sport. Ex-players say the NFL doesn’t care about the health of retired players and doesn’t do enough for them. The recent suicides of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau show the effects the game can have. As much as this is an issue for the players union to handle, the NFL will continue to look bad if it doesn’t do its part.

This leads to player safety issues. This has actually been a testy topic for the past three years. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been committed to making the game safer, as evidenced by his harsh punishment for the Saints bounty scandal. Goodell has already levied more fines against players than any other commissioner in league history, leading to criticism from players such as James Harrison and a defamation lawsuit from Jonathan Vilma.

Finally, two separate issues emerged on Wednesday that further strained the relationship between the NFL and NFLPA. The players union is unhappy about the league’s decision to make thigh and knee pads mandatory for the 2013 season, claiming such a rule should be negotiated. Also on Wednesday, the NFLPA filed a collusion lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly setting a $123 million salary cap in 2010, which was supposed to be an uncapped year. By secretly setting a cap, the NFLPA claims the league and its owners confided to keep player salaries low.

It’s unsettling for football fans to think that all this is happening in the first year of what is supposed to be a 10-year window of labor peace. Matters only seem to be getting worse, arguably more so than during the lockout last year. It’s not a stretch to imagine another lockout occurring in the next three to five years if matters don’t improve.

Through it all the sport remains as popular and successful as ever. Perhaps the two sides should take a lesson from The Beatles and let it be.

Photo (cc) by Staff Sgt. Bradley Lail, USAF and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. It’s call growing pains! Difficult for a league that is growing for it to keep up on challenges. Checkout nflfemale.com The # 1 NFL site 4 women.

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  2. […] In just over five years as commissioner, Goodell has already handed out more suspensions than any other boss in NFL history. He isn’t called “the most powerful man in sports” for nothing. But for all his power, it’s clear Goodell has made some enemies during his tenure, and that’s not good for the future of the league. […]

    Reply

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