Before the NFL can finalize its plans for 2020, the NFL Players Association must agree to those plans. Whether part of an orchestrated P.R. campaign or not, fans will choose sides if it appears that the league and union can’t agree on one or more issues.
And so the NFLPA wisely is getting ahead of that potential battle by reminding its players — and anyone else — of the realities of the situation. A message posted by NFLPA president and Browns center JC Tretter addresses several key dynamics regarding the situation, while also making it clear that the process of balancing the wishes of the teams with the rights of the players may not go as smoothly as some had assumed.
“Any time there is uncertainty, a tough issue or even when we are at odds with the NFL, a few common narratives arise from the media and public,” Tretter writes. “Professional athletes in every sport have to regularly fend off criticism that our profession should be considered less of a job and that we shouldn’t fight for protections and benefits. As we begin our fight for necessary COVID-19 protections, these recycled misconceptions will be used to undermine the strength of our union and the legitimacy of your career.”
Tretter then addresses several of the misconceptions, beginning with a line that the Commissioner has rattled off from time to time in the past: “Playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right.”
“It’s neither,” Tretter explains. “It’s your job. It is a highly sought-after job and a childhood dream, but it is a job, nonetheless. You worked your ass off to earn this job, and you have to continue to work your ass off to keep it. Do not allow anyone to undermine the work you put in day after day to earn a spot in this profession. The attempt to frame your occupation as a ‘privilege’ is a way to make you feel like you should be happy with whatever you get versus exercising your right to fight for more protections and benefits.”
Next, Tretter tackles the argument that players should play “for the love of the game,” and nothing more.
“I love what I do,” Tretter says. “I know a lot of my peers love what they do, too. There are people in all different professions who love what they do. Being passionate about your job shouldn’t prevent you from seeking better pay, benefits and work rules from your employer. Our careers are short and painful. Like every other worker, we should always work to maximize what we get for our services and realize our full value.”
Next comes a response to this plea: “Just go play! You’re young and healthy. You will all be fine. We need sports back.”
“We are not invincible, and as recent reports have shown, we certainly aren’t immune to this virus,” Tretter writes. “Underlying conditions like high BMI, asthma, and sleep apnea are all associated with a higher risk of developing severe symptoms and complications when infected with COVID-19. Those conditions are widespread across the league. NFL players are humans — some with immuno-compromised family members or live-in elderly parents. Trust me: We want to play football. But as a union, our most important job is keep our players safe and alive. The NFLPA will fight for our most at-risk players and their families.”
Then, Tretter addresses the argument that NFL players make too much money, with an explanation that should put that argument to bed forever.
“As employees of NFL teams, we put a product on the field that brings in billions of dollars,” Tretter observes. “The NFLPA collectively bargained for a percentage of that revenue. When the NFL and NFLPA split up billions of dollars, that leaves players in a position to make life-changing money. If less money was allocated to players, NFL owners would not turn around and gift the extra revenue to pay teachers, nurses, or other workers more money. The shaming of players (workers) to take less compensation will only further line the billionaire owners’ pockets.”
Finally, Tretter takes on the notion that, because other Americans have to return to work during the pandemic, football players should, too.
“It is the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe work environment,” Tretter says. “I encourage all workers to hold their employers accountable to high standards. More so than any other sport, the game of football is the perfect storm for virus transmission. There are protections, both short and long term, that must be agreed upon before we can safely return to work. The NFLPA will be diligent as we demand that the NFL provide us the safest workplace possible. . . . Our individual workplaces may be different, but we should support our fellow workers in pursuing gains instead of shaming them to come back to the pack. No worker should be complacent with their rights because they have what others outside their business deem ‘good enough.’ Instead of racing to the bottom, let’s push each other to the top.”
Amen to everything Tretter said. Although the decision to anticipate these issues at the outset of the effort to hammer out proper protocols for 2020 suggests that a “fight” (as Tretter used the word) is indeed coming, it’s the job of the union to fight for player rights; otherwise, those who will be assuming zero physical risk during football games in a pandemic will be tempted to push for scenarios that are less about maximizing player safety and more about illustrating the concept of “my guts, your blood.”