Legend has it that the NFL Players Association was born out of a simple demand: clean socks and jocks. Truth be told, pro football players wanted a little more than that when they formed the union in 1956; they wanted a voice.

The Beginning

A group of unhappy Cleveland Browns approach Creighton Miller in 1956 about setting up a trade association to address player grievances. The attorney and former Notre Dame standout reluctantly accepts the roles of legal counsel and chief spokesman.

November 1956: The NFLPA’s first player rep meeting takes place at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. 11 of the 12 teams sign on to be represented. Chicago is the one holdout.

January 1957: Players submit the following proposals to commissioner Bert Bell:

  • A minimum salary of $5,000
  • Clean uniform equipment paid for and maintained by the teams
  • Continued payment of salary when players were injured.

They receive no response from the league.

February 1957: The U.S. Supreme Court rules in Radovich v. National Football League that the NFL is a business that could not abuse its monopoly powers and had to follow antitrust law. Because of this, the league’s owners are forced to recognize the NFLPA and grant many of its demands – or else, face a lawsuit.

1959: Player benefits are introduced, including pension, hospitalization and medical/life insurance.

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