Not long after 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to not stand for the national anthem, a basic, fundamental question emerged: Are NFL players realizing that they have power?
Four weeks after Kaepernick’s gesture was first noticed, they apparently are. Apart from social issues for which players are using their platform, the not-too-distant future could entail players flexing their muscles with the confines of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith hinted at such efforts during Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio and NBCSN.
“You and I both know that in the history of the labor movement when it came to issues like work to rule where workers decided that they were going to engage in protest by following the rules to the letter of the law, I think that’s something that also was a perhaps unintended consequence of this but something that has certainly lit the fuse and made players aware of what their power is,” Smith said.
By “work to rule,” Smith means that players would do the absolute bare minimum under the labor deal. Which means, among other things, they would boycott all non-mandatory activities, including the vast majority of the offseason program.
“Do you believe that there will be players who say, ‘You know what? We don’t have to be here, we’re not required to be here, and if you want us to be here let’s go back to the bargaining table and you give us some concessions and we’ll agree to make them mandatory’?” I asked, regarding offseason workouts and OTAs.
“Well, I certainly think that the league, and you know when it comes to issues of Commissioner discipline or the way in which the league office is being perceived sometimes as players, I think players see the flip side of that as happening to them,” Smith said. “I think you can tick off a number of issues that have popped up over the years where players and certainly I believe that the league has gone out of its way to unfairly treat players. Do I think that a number of players, you know, looking at what’s happened over the last few months, are saying to themselves, ‘Well, wait a minute. If you want to pursue this in a way that’s unfair to us, are we gonna avail ourselves of every bit of power to protest we have?’ And I think absolutely, I wouldn’t be surprised if players start looking at what they’re obligated to do and what they’re not obligated to do and when it comes to things like offseason workouts are we hearing players out there saying exactly that? Yes.”
Let that one sink in for a bit. Regardless of whether players ultimately will launch a strike that isn’t really a strike, they’re discussing it.
“I’m not in the business of predicting what’s gonna happen but I do think that the decision of a group of young men over the last few weeks to thoughtfully address the issues that are important to them in their community by protesting has certainly made a number of players look inward at their own system and try and to make a decision about whether and how they can continue that,” Smith said.
In other words, Superman is realizing he can fly. It will be interesting to see whether he chooses to, and where he decides to go.