Click here to go to the Home Page The Fight In The NFL is Just Another Side of Wisconsin - The African World By Bill Fletcher, Jr., Editorial Board

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When I moved to DC from Boston I went to open a checking account at a local bank.  I brought a cashier’s check from my bank in Boston to deposit.  I naturally assumed that with a cashier’s check that I could immediately access my funds.  The customer service person disabused me of that.  She informed me that the bank would be holding onto the check for five days in order for it to clear.  I was perplexed and responded that since this was a cashier’s check and there should be no question as to its validity, why would they need to hold onto it for five days.  I will never forget her response:  “Because we can.”

In watching the struggle that has been unfolding between the owners of the National Football League and the players - represented by the NFL Players Association - I have found myself remembering the words of the bank’s customer service person.  The dispute between the owners and the players has a level of absurdity to it because the owners cannot even state their case with a straight face.  With an average team worth $1 billion and $9 billion in revenue for the NFL, how could the owners possibly argue that they needed concessions from the players?  Not only that, but how could they think that a lockout would be justified?

The bottom line is that it is not justifiable but it is explainable.  It is simple:  because they can.

What we are watching unfold in the dispute in the NFL is not about money any more than the events unfolding in Wisconsin concern money.  It is about raw power, justified to the public, of course, on the basis of alleged fiscal fairness and reality.

The NFL owners want give backs from the players and they want an extension of the season to 18 games.  While many fans might want a little extra football, there is almost no discussion—except from the Players Association—as to the literal and figurative impact of the extension of the season on the players themselves.  As it is the physical impact of football on the players is something that has been underplayed in the mainstream media and only periodically surfaces as a major concern.  So, in effect, the owners want the players to concede funds and shorten their lives.

But what they really want is to demolish the NFL Players Association, thereby leaving them with unbridled power over the sport.  There really can be no other explanation for their actions since this is not an industry that is either in decline or suffering from some sort of revenue shortfall.

Therefore, the owners chose to go to war with the players.  Until the last two weeks the owners thought that they held all of the cards until Judge David Doty issued a decision eliminating the possibility of the owners accessing $4 billion in television monies should there be a lockout.  Let me clarify this because it is almost unbelievable.  Until Judge Doty’s decision the owners expected that they could access billions in television revenue even if there was no football to broadcast!  What a weapon to hold over the heads of the players.  With this weapon in hand the owners felt no particular need to pay any serious attention to negotiations.  In the aftermath of Judge Doty’s decision they have changed their tune…slightly.

By the time that you read this piece there may be a settlement or a lockout.  What is critical to recognize, in either case, is that the fight that the NFL Players Association is undertaking is not a battle among the gods, but is actually a variant on the fight that has been taking place in state after state where the elite, and their political allies largely in the Republican Party, are attempting to strip working people of not only organization, but any power to assert their interests and rights.  While some NFL players make millions for the brief duration of their careers, and therefore live lives that are dramatically different from you and eye, the owners make billions.  And one of the things about capitalism is that the elite are never satisfied with what any average person would consider acceptable profits.  If the profits are not expanding, then the elite considers it a loss.  That is what we are witnessing unfolding on this side of the field.

As crazy as it may first sound, the fight of the players is a fight that we should not only concern ourselves with, but a fight which we need to join.  If they can destroy the players and their union when the owners are rolling in money, what stops owners in other industries from moving against populations that they believe to be even more vulnerable?

Are you ready for some football? Editorial Board member, Bill Fletcher, Jr., is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president ofTransAfricaForum and co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path toward Social Justice (University of California Press), which examines the crisis of organized labor in the USA. Click here to contact Mr. Fletcher.


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Mar 10, 2011 - Issue 417
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