Monday, March 28, 2011

HIO: The NFL Labor Dispute and the Price of a Life

Shifting away from formatting HIO editions as letters, on the docket this week is the NFL labor dispute and current lockout.

If you are unfamiliar with the bitter dispute, remember the days of sitting in your boring high school history class when your teacher rambled incessantly about labor disputes during the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the United States. You know, the Homestead Strike, the Pullman Strike, Terrance Powderly and the Knights of Labor, etc. Okay so none of those strikes or names probably ring-a-bell, but hopefully that made you reminisce about those old high school days.

Anyway, the NFL labor dispute is no different from any other labor scuffle. In this case, the NFL is the organization/business and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is the labor union representing the players themselves. Both the NFL and NFLPA have an agreement, called the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which contracts the players to work in the league.

As of early March 2011, the CBA between the NFL and the NFLPA expired. Unable to come to an agreement on a new CBA, the NFL locked out the players and the NFLPA decertified as a union. At this point, the future of professional football and the league is in the hands of a judge.

Among the issues both parties are at arms over include expanding the regular season schedule from 16 games to 18 games, retired player medical coverage, and dividing a $9 billion chunk of revenue.

While NFL players make millions, at the end of the day they are people like you and me. If you had the ability to play professional football and make tons of money, you would certainly jump at the opportunity. According to a January 2011 Businessweek report, the median NFL player salary is $770,000. That is a NICE chunk of change.

While I understand the motives of both parties, the players are still human. Many of them have families to support. That said, why wouldn't the NFL and its teams agree to pay the players more if they would like to expand the regular season? Shouldn't they also increase the medical coverage for retired players as well?

Apart from being unable to divide $9 billion, the primary issue is player safety. With a current 16 game schedule, the number of concussions has risen dramatically over just the last few seasons. If the league wants to shorten the preseason and add two games to the regular season, common sense says you have to pay players more, yes?

So that brings me to the ultimate question: What is the price of a life? Football is a dangerous sport, serious injuries occur almost weekly.

In an article from The Notion, the wife of NFL linebacker Scott Fujita explains her family's struggles as the supporting cast of an NFL player in a letter titled "Wish of an NFL Wife." In exerts from her letter, Jaclyn Fujita first touches on her husband's brush with death from injury and the need for better medical coverage:

"And here [the NFL is], simply asking the men who profit from their work, to please look after their health, as they should have done throughout their career. They ask this so that someday, the young boy who chooses this path knows he will be protected the way he deserves. So his mother, wife, or child will know that even though that hit looks awful, there is someone on the sideline with his best interests at heart. So future NFL wives who watch their husbands unable to get out of a chair on a Tuesday, yet still strap it come Sunday, will be taken care of. So the man who is sacrificing his body and mind for the thrill of the game can be confident that his work will not go unnoticed. He will not be forgotten. He will not go unprotected. He will have earned the right to be taken care of for life. He will be kept safe from his damaged body and mind. For it was those bodies and minds of fifty-three men on thirty-two teams who every year generate billions of dollars for this industry. They deserve to be cared about."
"My husband could have lost his life to a staph infection. His NFL doctors and trainers were heating/icing/stemming his knee for a bursa-sac rupture and ignoring all the major signs of infection, while his body was screaming that something else must be wrong. He ended up in an emergency operation weeks after symptoms began. Following five nights in hospital isolation and many weeks beating back the infection, he was ready to play for the city we love and a team we built our life around. He would help them win the coveted Super Bowl Championship. Less than a month later he would be gone, feeling completely expendable and replaceable as if his blood, sweat and tears did not matter."
So, what is the price of a life? Think the NFL should give-in and provide more money to players and increase medical coverage? Should the players really be complaining about two more games of pay when they already make far more than any of us (almost 10 times that of the average household income)? Share your thoughts below.

Kevin Giordano is a sophomore Sport Management major at Drexel University, with industry experience working in men's and women's professional soccer and collegiate athletics. To contact or connect with Kevin, you can follow him on Twitter (@KevinGiordano) or connect with him here on LinkedIn.

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