Let them play – National Consumers League

By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Football isn’t just a sport; it’s a very big and lucrative business in America, and it’s only getting bigger. The Super Bowl had the most viewers of any sporting event in the United States.  In 2010, each NFL game was watched by an average of 17.9 million viewers, up 13 percent from 2009’s 16.6 million. Even owners of teams with losing records, like Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, have more than doubled their investment.  Snyder bought the Redskins in 1999 for $750 mil and today the franchise is valued at 1.6 billion. That kind of success is true across the board for NFL franchises.

But despite these record profits, the National Football League owners are now threatening to lockout the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) unless the players agree to play 18 official games a season instead of 16, and reduce the share of revenue set aside for player salaries by 18 percent beginning next year.

Right now the players receive about 50 percent of the revenue of the NFL, which I think is about where it should be. After all, the players are doing all the work. We go to games not to see Dan Snyder: we want to see Donovan McNabb or Aaron Rodgers.

I confess that when I first heard about this I figured, sure, millionaires going up against billionaires – is this really a fight we need to get into?

Then I recently attended a press conference sponsored by the nonprofit organization American Rights at Work and the NFLPA, which changed my mind. The players there talked about the short working careers of most of their teammates – around 3 ½ years on average. It also takes 3 years of accredited play under current contracts to get only 5 years of post-career health care. Moreover, many players are in dire need of health care after playing professional football – after sustaining all manner of injuries from this very physical game, they often have joint and muscle problems, and have trouble walking and staying healthy after years of the rough and tumble of a football career. And new research is showing the terrible toll head injuries and concussions are having on player’s ability to live healthy and productive lives in their post-NFL careers.

The lockout the owners are threatening won’t just hurt the players and their families; such a lockout would have ancillary effects on workers and businesses across the country. Indeed, estimates are that every NFL city would lose an estimated $160 million, with over 115,000 jobs affected.

The players say they are satisfied with the current system and are willing to be totally transparent about the benefits and salaries they receive. They are asking the owners for the same openness. I think the benefit of the doubt goes to the players – they are the workers here, they are the one’s putting their physical and mental health at risk each day for our entertainment, and it’s their labor that has made millionaire owners into billionaires. The players’ slogan is “Let us Play” and they want to maintain the status quo, where everyone is benefitting from the profits football brings in. I agree with them, and I think we owe them our support.