SI Vault
Gwilym S. Brown
March 22, 1971
Led by Colt John Mackey, who dishes it out on or off the field, NFL players charge management with delay of game and unsportsmanlike conduct
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March 22, 1971

Owners Can Be Tackled, Too

Led by Colt John Mackey, who dishes it out on or off the field, NFL players charge management with delay of game and unsportsmanlike conduct

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Item: Green Bay, despite a payroll swollen with salaries to highly paid veterans and one of the smaller stadiums in the NFL (50,810 seating capacity), reputedly made $653,109 in 1969.

Item: Boston, despite having the worst record in the NFL and playing in the smallest stadium (38,000), announced last month that it made a profit of $500,000 in 1970. It has also been recently revealed that two other teams with poor won-lost records have been profitable. In 1968 the Philadelphia Eagles reportedly made about $650,000, and in 1969 Buffalo reportedly made $800,000.

Whatever the evidence, the belief that pro football teeters on the edge of bankruptcy has been sanctified by Congress. In 1966, when the NFL and AFL merged and thus became a monopoly, Congress exempted the new league from antitrust laws. Senate Whip Russell Long (D., La.) and House Whip Hale Boggs (D., La.) were chiefly responsible for the legislation. New Orleans was granted an NFL franchise soon after.

It is the feeling of the players that for years the owners have had it pretty good. They have had a sympathetic press, sympathetic fans, a sympathetic TV audience, a sympathetic Congress—in short, almost an entire nation sympathetic to their claim that pro football isn't a real moneymaker and that, conversely, excessive demands for pension funding and other benefits will bleed the game white. Even the players themselves have been traditionally more eager to play than to argue about money.

"We are up against some of the richest, most powerful men in the country," says a veteran NFL regular, referring to the Murchisons, the Hunts, the Jack Kent Cookes, the Fords, the Rankin Smiths, all multimillionaires who own teams but who possess clout and power extending far beyond the playing fields. "Anyone active in the Players Association has to be careful about what he does and says. You make nothing but enemies in that kind of work, enemies of the wrong people, people who can hurt you."

From each team one player is elected to represent his teammates to the Players Association and to management. He is called the player rep. Most player reps do their job very well, some do it badly, none last in the job very long. The turnover among player reps is high partly because it is a time-consuming job that pays no salary, and who needs it? Partly it is because a great many reps get traded. Most of them are starters, many are All-Pros. Even so, a player rep's chance of being traded, waived or cut is about three times as high as that of a player who minds his own business. Pittsburgh traded away its last two reps, San Francisco traded away three in less than a year. In addition, reps have been demoted to the taxi squad, benched and pressured.

The toll has been particularly high following contract negotiations between the owners and the Players Association. In 1968 a new contract was agreed upon. The AFL players signed quietly. The NFL players went on strike before obtaining a contract they would sign. Within a year six NFL reps had been waived, sold or traded; two others went in 1970. Pittsburgh's rep, John Campbell, was sold to Baltimore; San Francisco's alternate rep, Clark Miller, who had been very active in the negotiations, was traded to the New York Giants; San Francisco's rep, Howard Mudd, a Pro Bowl choice at offensive guard, was traded to Chicago; Atlanta rep Sam Williams was waived out of the league; the Falcons' alternate rep Dan Grimm was traded to Baltimore; and Philadelphia rep John Huarte was traded to Minnesota. In 1970, reps Carl Kammerer and Gary Wood were waived by Washington and cut by the Giants respectively. By the time the negotiations on the 1970 player-owner contract got underway not a single 1968 NFL player rep still served in that capacity.

The attrition continued virtually unabated during and after the 1970 bargaining. San Francisco player rep Kermit Alexander, the team's outstanding cornerback, was traded to Los Angeles. In fact, he was called out of a players Association meeting to receive the news. Following an exceptional season, Pittsburgh rep Roy Jefferson was traded to Baltimore. Dallas rep John Wilbur, a starter at guard, was traded to St. Louis, then to Los Angeles and is now with Washington. Miami rep Dick Westmoreland, a defensive back, was traded to Minnesota and then cut.

Says Rozelle, who regards himself as holding a neutral position between players and owners, "I've never heard any talk at all about players being traded just because they were player reps. I'd have to look at each case separately, but in general most player reps are veterans who've been around for a while. Obviously you're going to have more trading at the ends of the spectrum—rookies and vets. Without looking at each trade, my guess would be that the players in question were all about 29 or 30. [Actually, the average age was 28.] Clubs have different needs. Maybe they're just trying something else or are looking for a youth movement. If you examine each trade on its merits, I think you'll find pretty rational reasons for it."

Rational reasons have been found for some of football's most disastrous trades, but add to the waives, the trades and the cuts those player reps who have come off fine years only to be benched or demoted to the taxi squad, and a long, impressively sinister list can be drawn up. Then there are the harassment campaigns. Dave Robinson, the Green Bay linebacker, and the 49ers' Alexander allegedly provide typical examples.

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