As head of the baseball players’ union from 1966 to 1982, Marvin Miller was credited with making huge strides in collective bargaining, leading to free agency and skyrocketing player salaries. At age 93, Miller is still a keen observer of the labor situation in sports, and he says he doesn’t think the NFL players have had particularly good representation through the years.
In particular, Miller rails against the previous NFL Players Association leadership for ever agreeing to a salary cap, which he sees as an unacceptable limit on how much money the players can make.
“No legitimate union could ever agree to a salary cap,” Miller told Sports Illustrated. “In my mind, if a union did that, if would be grounds for decertification, for membership to go court. They were not representing their goal in the law: to improve the wages, hours and working conditions of its members.”
Miller said he doesn’t care what the players got in exchange for the cap: As far as Miller is concerned, as soon as the union leadership agreed to a salary cap, “They were now on the side of management.”
Miller was a brilliant leader of the baseball players’ union and one of the most influential figures in 20th Century American sports, but he’s wrong to suggest that the NFL players didn’t get anything in exchange for the salary cap. Yes, the NFL players agreed to a salary cap, which is a major concession to the owners. But the owners also agreed to a salary floor, which is a major concession to the players — a concession that the allegedly much more powerful baseball players’ union hasn’t managed to get from the baseball owners.
The presence of both a cap and a floor is why the NFL has no equivalent to the New York Yankees, who paid players more than $200 million in 2010, but also no equivalent to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who paid players less than $35 million in 2010. That might not be a trade-off Miller would make, but it’s a trade-off the NFL players made with their eyes wide open.