I would guess that
many football players are motivated in a similar fashion, perhaps even John
Gordy and the other leaders of the NFL Players' Association. The motive: a need
The average fan
and the majority of sportswriters are unsympathetic. Revenge for what? At first
glance, the published figures of salary averages and pension benefits are
impressive. But to be unsympathetic is to be unaware of the history of unions.
Unions are an outgrowth of industry's failure to police itself, to deal fairly
with its employees. And unions have always had to fight for their existence.
The history of unions in professional football has followed the same pattern.
The football union is an outgrowth of no pensions, $5,000 salaries, men risking
greatly, giving so much of themselves and leaving with so little.
football player has become convinced that he deserves to share in the profits
of an industry in which he is the movable part that wears out, that it is fair
to attempt to translate the pain of a broken bone, of exhaustion, into money.
There should not be any ceiling placed on player benefits—as the industry
prospers, the players should prosper in kind.
During the off
season I had an operation on each shoulder to repair football injuries. Kenny
Graham, a Charger defensive back, was in the hospital at the same time
recovering from an operation to correct a chronically dislocating shoulder.
When I visited
Kenny his first words were, "Oh, they're going to pay for this, Ron,
they're going to pay."
"You mean the
adding up all this pain and I'm going to tack it on my contract." For the
next hour, there we sat in hospital gowns, Kenny with one shoulder bandaged, I
with two, trying to figure out how much the Chargers should pay us for each
moment of pain.
It seemed a
logical bargaining point, even though both of us have gained a great deal of
benefit from the game. Kenny seemingly loves the body contact the game
provides; I neither like it nor mind it. To me football is simply a game,
nothing to get greatly excited about. Yet, though each of us finds enjoyment in
the game, there comes a time when we must objectively determine the detriments
and seek commensurate compensation.
For our individual
contracts we bargain as individuals. To negotiate for group benefits, such as
pensions, we need a union. There is a place for a union in professional
athletics. I am only sorry that the players' union has not attempted to expand
its influence into broader areas. Realizing that I am about to present
sportswriters with parody material, I would like to suggest that it would be a
legitimate objective for a players' union to seek shorter preseason training
camps, to limit the length of involuntary time on the practice field, to set a
range on rookie—apprentice, if you will—salaries, to encourage the development
of safer equipment.
When one belongs
to a union one has to accept the possibility of using the ultimate weapon: the
strike. A general manager is always quick to tell a player that he can quit if
he is unhappy, so the same general manager should not feel surprised when a
group accepts his suggestion.