Protecting the Rights of Football Players
The role of our union to advocate for and protect players is especially important as we figure out how to fit football into this world of coronavirus. For both rookies who are eager to make an impression and veterans who are hungry to come back, we have to be patient with the process so that we can make sure you and your families receive every necessary protection.
Any time there is uncertainty, a tough issue or even when we are at odds with the NFL, a few common narratives arise from the media and public. Professional athletes in every sport have to regularly fend off criticism that our profession should be considered less of a job and that we shouldn’t fight for protections and benefits. As we begin our fight for necessary COVID-19 protections, these recycled misconceptions will be used to undermine the strength of our union and the legitimacy of your career. Let’s address a few of these now:
“Playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right.”
It’s neither. It’s your job. It is a highly sought-after job and a childhood dream, but it is a job, nonetheless. You worked your ass off to earn this job, and you have to continue to work your ass off to keep it. Do not allow anyone to undermine the work you put in day after day to earn a spot in this profession. The attempt to frame your occupation as a “privilege” is a way to make you feel like you should be happy with whatever you get versus exercising your right to fight for more protections and benefits.
“You should just play for the love of the game.”
I love what I do. I know a lot of my peers love what they do, too. There are people in all different professions who love what they do. Being passionate about your job shouldn’t prevent you from seeking better pay, benefits and work rules from your employer. Our careers are short and painful. Like every other worker, we should always work to maximize what we get for our services and realize our full value.
“Just go play! You’re young and healthy. You will all be fine. We need sports back.”
We are not invincible, and as recent reports have shown, we certainly aren’t immune to this virus. Underlying conditions like high BMI, asthma and sleep apnea are all associated with a higher risk of developing severe symptoms and complications when infected with COVID-19. Those conditions are widespread across the league. NFL players are humans -- some with immuno-compromised family members or live-in elderly parents. Trust me: we want to play football. But as a union, our most important job is keep our players safe and alive. The NFLPA will fight for our most at-risk players and their families.
“Athletes are overpaid! Why don’t our [teachers/nurses/first responders] get paid more?”
I hope every worker can maximize their talents and use their leverage to get paid more - especially essential workers. To be clear, though, there is no correlation between a football player’s paycheck and a nurse’s paycheck. As employees of NFL teams, we put a product on the field that brings in billions of dollars. The NFLPA collectively bargained for a percentage of that revenue. When the NFL and NFLPA split up billions of dollars, that leaves players in a position to make life-changing money. If less money was allocated to players, NFL owners would not turn around and gift the extra revenue to pay teachers, nurses, or other workers more money. The shaming of players (workers) to take less compensation will only further line the billionaire owners’ pockets.
“I had to go back to work. You should have to go back, too.”
It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe work environment. I encourage all workers to hold their employers accountable to high standards. More so than any other sport, the game of football is the perfect storm for virus transmission. There are protections, both short and long term, that must be agreed upon before we can safely return to work. The NFLPA will be diligent as we demand that the NFL provide us the safest workplace possible.
I do not believe conversations about returning to work should be a race to the lowest common denominator among employees across different professions in different industries. We are all workers fighting for the same things: better pay, better benefits and better work rules. Our individual workplaces may be different, but we should support our fellow workers in pursuing gains instead of shaming them to come back to the pack. No worker should be complacent with their rights because they have what others outside their business deem “good enough.” Instead of racing to the bottom, let’s push each other to the top.
The Former Players Corner
This month, I’m highlighting our Former Player Chapters.
Every time I talk to a former player, I get a similar response when I ask what they miss most about football. It’s not the big games, the loud stadiums or the individual glory. What guys miss most is the locker room. The time shared with teammates while on the road, the laughs in the lunch room and the conversations about life. You remember most fondly all the moments you shared with your teammates. This is a very special bond, and it’s incredibly difficult to replicate in life after football.
The NFLPA wanted to create an environment for former players to come together and continue to develop bonds with other players from different generations and teams. Our 32 Former Player Chapters, which are based in different cities across the US, give former players the opportunity to meet other retired players in their area, participate in community service, and receive information on benefits and services as they continue to evolve.
The Former Player Chapters help create the framework for our former player leadership structure. There are a number of ways that getting involved with your local chapter can help make sure issues important to our former players are voiced within the NFLPA.
At our annual Rep Meeting, we hold a Joint Leadership Summit with current players, chapter presidents and the Former Player Board of Directors. There are also two seats for former players on our Executive Committee. Those seats are held for the chairman of the Former Player Board of Directors and for a member of the board voted on by our chapter presidents. They are a valuable voice in the room in our discussions as an Executive Committee and influence how we make decisions. My hope is that every former player who wants to be connected will reach out and learn more about our chapters here.
- JC Tretter