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CSONKING THE NFLPA
Fed up with the dismal state of labor relations in his sport, Hall of Fame running back Larry Csonka is trying to form a new union to replace the NFL Players Association. Last week Csonka, 43, who now runs a gas station and a promotional firm in Lisbon, Ohio, mailed packets of information about his would-be union, the United Players of the NFL (UPNFL), to 1,200 NFL veterans. If a majority of NFL players return cards expressing their approval, the UPNFL will become the players' bargaining agent—a role previously filled by the NFLPA—and begin negotiating a new basic agreement with management. The NFLPA's last agreement with the NFL expired on Aug. 31, 1987, and since then negotiations have been sporadic.
Csonka's bid is complicated by the NFLPA's uncertain status. The NFLPA moved to decertify itself last November in hopes of strengthening the players' legal case for free agency, but the union's certification hasn't yet been terminated by the National Labor Relations Board. The NFL maintains that the NFLPA is still a functioning union and has sued to bring the NFLPA back to the bargaining table.
Csonka says that he founded the UPNFL after hearing too many players complain about the NFLPA's ineffectiveness. "I don't want to fight [ NFLPA executive director] Gene Upshaw," he says. "I have nothing against him. He's just surrounded himself with people who've given him bad advice, and his union is mismanaged. The bottom line is this: There's absolutely no reason we shouldn't have a labor agreement in this sport."
Csonka, who says he has been encouraged in his efforts by both players and team officials, promises that the UPNFL would present an agreement to players for their approval within 90 days. "This is such a crucial time for players," he says. "They're getting drug-testing crammed down their throats. They've had an expanded season forced on them. Their benefits are being eroded. It's all because they have a union that can't get a labor agreement."
Attempts by other groups to supplant the NFLPA have flopped, and it's a long shot that the UPNFL will get the majority support it needs. Even if it did, it is by no means certain that Csonka could negotiate a deal that players would find acceptable—especially under the gun of a self-imposed 90-day deadline. Nevertheless, Csonka is unassailable on one point: NFLPA membership is clearly restless.
UP, UP AND AWAY
Drew Bell's personal record for the pole vault is eight inches. That's his father's estimate; at age two, Drew hasn't yet vaulted over a standard crossbar.
Drew is the son of 1984 Olympic bronze medalist and former world-record vaulter Earl Bell, whom he often watches train. At 21 months—much to the surprise of Bell and his wife, Phyllis—Drew picked up a yardstick and, using a correct vaulter's grip, began trotting around the Bells' house in Jonesboro, Ark., saying, "Pole vault, pole vault." Soon he was vaulting into piles of pillows and imitating all his dad's vaulting mannerisms, including the chalking of his hands.