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6 Major Reasons You Should Care About the Labor Battles in Professional Sports

Sports labor battles result in some of the only nationwide, well-publicized discussions of union negotiations and union busting.

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Mirtle notes that the bottom 10 teams in the league (in such notorious hockey cities as Phoenix) aren't making enough money to cover expenses, while the rich teams have little interest in sharing revenue the way, say, the NFL or Major League Baseball do.

“It’s an owner versus owner problem more than it is an owner versus player one,” Mirtle writes, but as a player agent tells him, “Owners would rather try to pound on players than pound on each other.”

Back in 2004, the league was struggling and the owners at least had an argument for shutting down the entire season. But it took years for the league to recover from that lockout; it appears that the owners are willing to shoot themselves in the foot in order to smack the players down one more time.

6. A labor issue your anti-union relatives will understand. With all that said, it's a fact that many people still can't dredge up a lot of sympathy for people making a lot more money than most of us do. At a time when teachers' salaries are decried as too high even by liberal writers, it's pretty hard to convince even sports fans that they should sympathize with athletes who make up to $10 million a year.

Yet the referees lockout might finally serve as an object lesson. It's much easier to find some sympathy for part-time employees who make, while a healthy salary, a tiny one in comparison to both th owners and the players. And watching the game each week as replacement officials bungle calls and lose control of the field is growing more and more painful. Sports sites like Deadspin set up a “ scabwatch” and a Change.org petition has started making the rounds calling on the league to bring back the real refs.

As Jeff MacGregor wrote in one of the most eloquent defenses not just of the refs, but of labor unions:

You know that your leisure to watch an NFL game on Sunday was argued and bargained and fought for by unions, right? That the wages you spent on that game-day flatscreen were argued and bargained and fought for by unions, right? That your standing as a member of the American middle-class was argued and bargained and fought for by 200 years of collective effort and sacrifice and blood on the part of folks just like you, right?

Or maybe you don't. Maybe we've lost the habit of looking out for each other. Of empathy. Fellow feeling. Of picturing ourselves in another guy's shoes. When did we decide it made sense to give up on each other?

Next kickoff, maybe think of it this way: That referee, that back judge, that stranger down there on the field running as hard as he can to keep up with the millionaires but falling farther behind with every step? Maybe that's us.

Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times and the co-host of Dissent magazine's "Belabored" podcast. Her writings on labor, social movements, gender, media and student debt have been published in The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Prospect, AlterNet and many other publications, and she is a regular commentator for radio and television. You can follow her on Twitter: @sarahljaffe.

 
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