The fight for union rights has extended to possibly an unexpected arena, the National Football League. The NFL must end the player lockout and give fans a full NFL season, unless the league wishes to lose much of its fan base, myself included.
The NFL officially began their player lockout on March 12. This means that no NFL players are allowed to practice at team facilities or meet team coaches. As someone who has grown up loving the sport of football, I imagine many people wonder how we got to this point where it is quite possible that no NFL season will happen this upcoming fall.
The lockout was jump started when the NFL wanted $1 billion in extra revenues, on top of the $1 billion the league already gets before the players receive any income. It seems that the owners want to weaken the bargaining position of the player’s union, and the individual players themselves. This would explain why the NFL tried to use $4 billion from TV contracts as a “war chest” to survive the revenue losses from imposing a lockout on NFL players this upcoming year. That strategy ran into a brick wall when U.S. District Court Judge David Doty ruled that this action violated the collective bargaining agreement with the players stating, “The record shows that the NFL undertook contract renegotiations to advance its own interests and harm the interests of the players.”
The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) then decided to decertify their union, at the request of the NFL players, in order to sue the NFL for various actions, including alleged anti-trust violations for unfairly restraining trade in an uncompetitive manner. The NFL responded in court petitions arguing that it can’t be sued under the Norris–LaGuardia Act because it is currently involved in a “labor dispute.” The NFL is wrong here. Once the players’ union ceased to exist, which is the players’ choice; it is no longer considered a labor dispute.
The NFL claims the current NFLPA decertification is “unfair.” Really? When the NFLPA decertified in 1992 and sued the NFL under anti-trust laws and finally settled on an agreement with the players, the NFL literally begged for the NFLPA to recertify. This was so the NFL wouldn’t be vulnerable to anti-trust lawsuits. In fact, Major League Baseball is the only American professional sports league with anti-trust protections.
The NFL knew that once they were going to lock out players on March 12, they would be an open target for anti-trust litigation because they no longer had the anti-trust protections that they were afforded when they had a collective bargaining agreement. Once the labor relationship ended, their anti-trust protections ended right along with it.
This begs a question: Why would the NFL lockout their own players if they knew they would get sued under anti-trust laws, which they are especially vulnerable to? Simple, they wanted certain stipulations from the players, such as 18 game regular seasons and a larger share of NFL revenues. They thought they could get these demands either through negotiations, which failed, or through a lockout, using $4 billion in TV contracts to wait out player demands and force the NFL players back to the bargaining table through economic coercion.
The players aren’t backing down though. The case Tom Brady v. NFL is currently at the 8th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals, which currently seems to favor the NFL’s position. The players under the lead of Brady are suing to stop the NFL lockout under anti-trust violations, stating that the players will suffer irreparable harm. A case like this is bound to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court eventually.
Without a court decision ending the player lockout before July or August, the NFL season will be shortened, if not lost all together. A decision to allow the lockout to continue would be a disastrous action allowing sports unions to become a virtually powerless entity in the near future, right along with unions for everyday working Americans.