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The Superbowl Is Over, But the Biggest Fight in Football Is About to Kick off

This time it’s not Packers v. Steelers. It’s Workers v. Bosses.

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Former Packers guard Jerry Kramer gets a pension of $358 per month. Willie Wood, who helped Vince Lombardi win five championships during Wood’s 12 seasons, is now in a wheelchair. He receives a pension of $1,100 a month.

Consider that baseball’s gross income is about $4.3 billion while last year the NFL grossed over $7 billion. As Parrish says, “There is no excuse not to have the NFL retirement benefits matching MLB’s.”

As for medical care, after enormous public pressure and congressional hearings, in 2007 the NFL created the “88 plan.” The number refers to the number worn by John Mackey who played for the Baltimore Colts in the 1960s, was the first president of the NFLPA, and was let go by the Colts because of his role in the 1970 strike. It is also the amount the NFL currently pays for institutional care for an ex-player suffering from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia: $88,000.

It is possible that the issue of disability benefits and medical care will be decided, as so many other issues have been, in court. An increasing number of NFL players are going to court to sue the NFL on these issues.

The players union is not perfect. For one thing, it hasn’t represented well the interests of all its members, focusing instead on enabling ever-higher salaries for its current players. Some 50 years ago the team owners agreed to share equally the network broadcasting revenue but the players have yet to divide up their collective revenue more fairly between current players and retirees.

The NFLPA can also be criticized for not using its member’s fame and influence to assist other workers. NFL stars do not walk the picket lines when other workers strike. They do not honor the picket lines of other workers.

Indeed, the NFLPA doesn’t formally call itself a union. It is an association. Probably it embraced the word “association” because the word “union” has disagreeable connotations in modern America where less than 12 percent of the work force belongs to a union. That’s unfortunate. The word union projects a strength and unity of purpose the word association lacks. And that strength and unity will be crucial when faced with the power and influence of 32 team owners with collective wealth over $40 billion and a $4 billion lockout fund at their disposal, courtesy of the TV networks.

David Morris is co-founder and vice president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis, Minn., and director of its New Rules project.

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