NFL Contract Dispute Illustrates Classic Workers’ Compensation Issues

February 21, 2011  |  

In addition to that, the average length of a career for a player in the NFL is only 3 and a-half years.  Part of it has to do with the physical strain that players place on their bodies in order to win us those championships. Last season alone, dozens of players were, at any given time, placed on the injury list – some with serious infractions that will no doubt affect their overall quality of life. This is why it should come as no surprise that the average lifespan of a football player is around 52 years.

Even after their NFL careers are over, many players might not qualify for the pensions, which are vested only after four years of play.  Not that it would matter much considering that pensions for the average NFL player are skimpy at best. Just ask Eric Shelton, the former running back for the Washington Redskins, who filed a suit against the NFL pension plan last November because instead of receiving $18,670 a month (which equates to $225,000 a year in pension benefits), he has only received$9,167 a month ($110,000 annually).  It may seem like a big chunk of change, but Shelton, who suffered a spinal cord injury during an intrasquad scrimmage, now suffers regular migraine headaches, transient paralysis and other neurological and related disorders that render him unable to work.

Both the players and the owners agree that there are some salaries in the League, mainly rookie contracts, that border on the line of ridiculousness and are in need of a serious cap.  However, the players want half of the estimated $200 million in savings from a rookie’s cap put toward retired players and the other half toward veteran players whereas the owners, who are crying broke, want all of that money for themselves.

Moreover, the owners are also demanding that the regular season be extended to 18 games from the current schedule of 16 games. This is on top of asking players to give back about $7 billion over seven years, further reducing their revenue split below the 57-43 on the draw as it is currently. Imagine if your employer told you to accept a longer workweek with less pay. Not many of us would be willing to accept those terms – without a fight at least – so why do we expect the players to do so?

Granted, I know that plight of athletes and sports owners, who make more money than the rest of us, may seem trivial at best. But this has less to do with football and more to do with the further erosion of worker’s rights.

It’s clear that this is a classic union/management struggle, where workers are fighting for their share of the pie. It just so happens that the NFL is a pretty big pie. But much like the fight in Wisconsin, where thousands of unionized workers have protested and virtually camped out in the state capital demanding that their CBA be honored, many of the NFL players believe that their collective bargaining agreements is under attack by owners, who are trying to squeeze out more money, while sacrificing players’ safety and viability.  And if the workers at the top of pay scale can’t get a fair shake what hope is there for us at the bottom?

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.


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