De Smith: NFL has “probably been the largest group of bullies” in American labor history

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's Super Bowl Press Conference
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Outgoing, eventually, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith isn’t bashful about stirring things up. When Smith recently appeared on The Pivot podcast, he brought a big-ass spoon.

Via Sports Business Daily, Smith said that fans “don’t understand” the battle between the NFL and its players.

“The league has probably been the largest group of bullies in the labor market in the history of labor in America,” Smith explained. “We have a great business and it’s a multibillion-dollar business and yes, we’ve had people declare war on labor forever, but I don’t know of another business in America that has antitrust exemptions, they answer to no one, . . . there’s no board of directors, there’s no transparency, there’s no oversight. The only people who can ever stand up to the National Football League [are the players].”

Even then, the players will only do so much. As Smith acknowledged, the NFLPA’s “real leverage” comes from the ability to “withhold our services.” But it’s not easy to get players to do that.

“It just comes down to an issue of will,” Smith said. And the reality is that most players will not sacrifice the ability to play football and the ability to get paid to play football in the name of some broader, long-term objective.

And it’s more than that. Smith wants players to stop engaging in gratuitous promotion of the NFL.

“Stop giving away things for free,” Smith said. “When you put your jersey or something else on your Instagram post, I think that’s great . . . but you know who loves it more than you? The NFL and the team. They’re getting full promotion about how much you love the game and how much you love them without them paying you a cent.”

Smith actually described the push and pull between the NFL and the players as a “battle between good and evil,” and that Commissioner Roger Goodell is “not there for the players.”

The NFL continues to benefit from the fact that the fans tend to line up behind the teams, and thus the owners, because players come and go and teams don’t. It makes it easier for the owners to impose their will, because if the players ever exercise their will, the fans will be more upset with the players than the owners.

Frankly, the league could squeeze the players even more than they have. It’s almost as if the league goes a little easy on the players in order to keep the mismatch from becoming even more obvious than it is.

110 responses to “De Smith: NFL has “probably been the largest group of bullies” in American labor history

  1. Dee, when strike busters are carrying baseball bats, then you’re dealing with the largest group of bullies. C’mon man.

  2. If someone doesn’t like the way the NFL operates, they don’t have to play and get paid millions of dollars. Nobody is being forced to play football. It’s voluntary employment.

  3. Bullies? Wow. The only proper response to such immature and victimizing language is “nanny nanny boo boo!”
    What was it last time? Multi millionaires crying about being “back on the plantation?”

  4. It is really hard to get worked up about billionaires potentially bullying millionaires. I’m sure the owners have flexed on them plenty, but the players appear to be doing ok. It’s not exactly analogous to large mine owners taking advantage of coal miners.

  5. We’re supposed to feel sorry for these guys? Has there ever been an organization that turned as many jock neanderthals into multi-millionaires? Without the league, most of these guys are driving and loading trucks for UPS.

  6. Really? De Smith’s NFLPA FORCE players to pay for their services, players do NOT have a choice in the matter. Please tell me again…..WHO are the bullies?

  7. Am I reading The Onion? This guy can’t be serious. The players hire people to man the picket lines for them. They can’t even be bothered to picket themselves.

    Has he never, even once, opened a history book? Families went without food for lack of a paycheck when striking against the auto companies, trucking companies, etc…

    Billionaires and millionaires fighting over a pile of billions. Cry us a river.

  8. There is a reason why NFL is the most watched sport. Nothing better than NFL football and the way they operate we keep the competitive balance and fairness in contracts. Every sport should follow and not guarantee contracts for overpaid players you get stuck with like the ridiculous long baseball contracts.

  9. Yeah its kinda tough to feel sorry for these guys. Most former NFL players even the ones that have some long -term injuries said they would do it again. This was even before the ridiculous salaries now so good luck. I love football but kinda ready for the league to fail though so the salaries and cost of the game would come way down. Not likely to happen until people stop going and shockingly it appears that lots of people can afford 300-1000 tickets.

  10. I will admit I’m more sympathetic to the multi millionaire players, over the billionaire owners. With that said it’s basically no sympathy at all.

  11. Reminds me of Warren Sapp saying owners were masters and players were slaves lol. I didn’t know slaves were paid at all let alone millions.

  12. eaglesfan22 says:
    January 25, 2023 at 4:31 pm
    We’re supposed to feel sorry for these guys? Has there ever been an organization that turned as many jock neanderthals into multi-millionaires? Without the league, most of these guys are driving and loading trucks for UPS.
    __________

    What’s wrong with driving and loading trucks for UPS? It’s honest work and UPS employees make an excellent salary.

  13. He really said that playing in the NFL is (probably) worse than slavery. Quite a take.

  14. Apparently He’s never heard of the Railroad. They don’t have Congress forcing them back to work with no ability to strike.

  15. The players should form a union. A real union. That’s not the NFL’s responsibility. You don’t need to be a bully to beat up the current NFLPA. It’s as if the owners put together the NFLPA. They just aren’t very good at representing the players. It’s not the owner’s job to make sure the players are properly represented

  16. Enough with the victim mentality BS. D.Smith is a carpet begging, power hungry lawyer. He gets paid his multi million jack a year in his ivory tower to penteficat this trash. SMH

  17. florioisntverysmart says:
    January 25, 2023 at 4:31 pm

    It is really hard to get worked up about billionaires potentially bullying millionaires.

    ====================

    On the contrary, lots of folks do get worked up about it — in favor of the billionaires!

  18. If he feels that way, why doesn’t he just use the money he got from the NFL and the publicity of it, to retire because of how mean they are.

  19. DeMaurice “I will say anything to Cover my Butt” Smith speaks out of both sides of his mouth. If the NFL is such bullies then YOU DID NOT DO YOUR JOB. Every meeting this guy is the last one in and the first one out. No one is putting a gun to anyone’s head to play this game and former players will be the first to say – the money they get now a days is a windfall again due to the efforts of former players.

  20. Oh, cry me a river. The players are not victims. A few years in the league and they’ll never have to work again in their lives, if they’re smart with their money. From what I’ve seen, most fans are sick of hearing football players whine about how they don’t make enough because of greedy owners. How ironic can you get?

  21. Hilarious the players have it better than ever and work less than ever to get it , Johnny Unitas sold ice in the off-season when he played buck up butter cups.

  22. The biggest issue the nflpa faces besides poor leadership is a divided union base. You can’t expect guys who are fighting for roster spots year in and out, while making the league minimum to vote for a strike so guys like Rodgers, Wilson, Watson etc.can sign even bigger deals.
    Drew Brees had historic contracts and expected guys making the league min to care about the franchise tag, bit why would they? Each season was always their last to make money to set them up for some measure of financial freedom

  23. And how would you suggest the players stand up to this horrible treatment ,miss game checks lololololololololol

  24. I was going to write something about how ridiculous this was but pretty much everyone else posted the obvious,so I’ll just leave it right there!

  25. Why hasn’t De Smith sat out of negotiations and given his salary away to charities instead to make a statement? Oh that’s right, he wants the money. Just like the players.

  26. The average NFL salary is $2.7million per year. That’s way more than most, if not all, labor workers in the world. And that doesn’t count the free uniforms, free healthcare, and free workout equipment … among other freebies. To get there; these players were afforded free college. Can De Smith name one other workplace in the labor market that affords their employees that much?!

  27. The only players with any real value that will hit the league and owners’ pockets are top tier franchise QBs. And since they get paid the most and treated the best, they can never be convinced to strike. Just about any other position is replaceable.

    Smith shouldn’t be talking either. As a leader of one of the richest group of “workers”, he’s barely made any progress to help players.

  28. Mr. Smith, you lose people when the hyperbole just goes straight to BS. He’d have been find pointing out the lack of any sort of controls and accountability, but don’t try to compare this to working in a coal or steel mine, drilling on offshore oil rigs, and any other host of jobs where employers take advantage of employees. Before the union gave it up in the last round, NFL owners matched 401(k) contributions 200%. Don’t know any other business that does that. And the pension contributions per player are six figures per player every year. And many other things. I didn’t see the owners cut the cap or lay off employees when COVID hit. They borrowed against future cap dollars to keep salaries up. That doesn’t sound all too bullying. Sure they try to nickel and dime players. Most employers do. But this isn’t the “company town” thing where players owe money at the end of the month/year, etc. You don’t think players are well treated? Do your job better. He essentially admitted he doesn’t do his job well enough.

  29. If true, then the Players and their representatives are the largest group of victims who keep bending over for more & more abuse.
    Smith is right that ultimately it’s the players who need to speak up and protect themselves.

  30. Lol. The NFL is is a nasty bully indeed. But if you are going to compare across history you are going to be appalled at what you run into. Even just American history there has been much much worse. Maybe as far as whats going currently today they earn high ranking.

  31. Did I miss the Owners having the President send in the army to break up a football strike?
    Or killing strikers? Or forcing the player to live in “Company Towns”, and only be able to buy stuff at “Company Stores”, with “Company Script $”?

  32. Let’s not pretend that collective bargaining agreements in pro-sports are equivalent to normal labor union agreements. I get why they exist, because players deserve their piece of the pie, but I don’t think fans really want to hear millionaires and billionaires argue about how to split up the hard earned money the fans have provided for tickets, merchandise, tv and streaming packages, etc.

    It’s a free market and people are willing to pay (apparently), but don’t whine about it. Make it invisible to the fans. The product that is the NFL could be much more affordable and all of the players and owners would still be rich. You are all very lucky. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

  33. Yeah the minimum wage is what almost anybody would like to earn for working almost 6 months a year. If only they had the opportunity for endorsements and other money making gigs because of being in the NFL. Oh wait! Dee sorry the mustard is not Grey Pupon.

  34. I’m pro-player and pro-union, but it sure is hard to thing of De Smith as anything but a failure on so many levels.

  35. He’s not wrong. The same people who take the side of the owners are the same people who tell minimum wage workers if they don’t like it to find a new job and then complain when there’s nobody to make their hamburger

  36. Smith has a point. I don’t know what it is and I probably wouldn’t agree with it, but he has a point.

  37. I have a bigger problem with NFL owners fleecing the communities “they serve” for subsidies of any form.

  38. Mr. Smith’s comments insult his constituents. The only leverage all unions have is withholding services. That the players choose not to is not evidence that they have it worse than other union members.

    Further, when he stated that players do uncompensated work, he seems to forget his members benefit from profit sharing.

  39. Hey, the USFL and the XFL are out there. If the NFL is so bad, these players, especially the stars, need to mosey on over there. Watch what happens.

  40. It’s the old 95-5 rule. Of all the money generated by the NFL the owners get 95% and the players get 5%. Seems a little out of whack to me but hey — that 5% represents a boatload.

  41. You’ve been one of the worst labor leaders in the history of the labor union bar none. Every time the players have come out with a bad deal, and that’s on you!!

  42. I know…I feel so bad for NFL Players. They have to work six months a year, get paid millions of dollars and are treated like Gods everywhere they go. Is there a Go Fund Me I can contribute to on their behalf?

  43. Yeah the nfl are bullies. How often have the bullies from various unions brought havoc? The teamsters and their corruption, then the mine workers setting off car bombs in the 60s and 70s. No doubt the nfl is greedy, but let’s be real unions are not choirboys.

  44. The NFL needs the union to exist. Without it, the draft and salary cap are illegal. Sure, Goodell has squeezed them, but Dee Smith agreed to the last deal. Didn’t have to.

  45. Google “Calumet Christmas fire” then quit whining about how tough your union members have it.

  46. De Smith should have said this 2 weeks from now on Radio Row if he wanted more spotlight on this. Now, it’ll get buried by Mahomes ankle update today.

  47. This guy has done next to nothing to help the situation. Constantly capitulating. If not for De Smith, the players might have more rights.

  48. Jack Lambert worked as a house painter in the off-season, and he was enraged whenever they Steelers lost in the playoffs because of the winner’s share he didn’t get ( not to mention the next weekend payday). Today’s players with their whining while making millions sound ridiculous.

  49. We need The Great NFL Reset so I’m on board with the following…

    “Smith acknowledged, the NFLPA’s “real leverage” comes from the ability to “withhold our services.”

  50. De Smith needs to be done as the head of the NFLPA. His hate for Goodell and the owners is obvious and has been for a long time. Biggest bullies in labor history is completely laughable and also completely incorrect.

  51. The current CBA runs through 2032 so I don’t know what Smith thinks he’s going to accomplish here. Maybe his successor will do a better job.

  52. Well, if the players don’t like it let them go work in a factory with full union benefits for 5 figures a year. Smh.

  53. Yeah. Most folks don’t get it. The billionaire has all the leverage. Not over the player, but the fan. They got you right where they want you. Give me money. And you do.

  54. tb12bestqbevah says:
    January 25, 2023 at 4:36 pm
    Am I reading The Onion? This guy can’t be serious. The players hire people to man the picket lines for them. They can’t even be bothered to picket themselves.

    Has he never, even once, opened a history book? Families went without food for lack of a paycheck when striking against the auto companies, trucking companies, etc…

    Billionaires and millionaires fighting over a pile of billions. Cry us a river

    ——————————————

    Probably not…..he is a jock afterall

  55. “Stop giving away things for free,” Smith said.
    ——————–

    Um, please explain to this dude that HE negotiated that players get 48% of everything the league sells… so yes, man, they are getting paid to promote the NFL.

  56. “…yes, we’ve had people declare war on labor forever, but I don’t know of another business in America that has antitrust exemptions…”

    That’s a pretty ignorant statement coming from a players union leader. The NFL, NFL and NBA all have partial anti-trust exemptions, meaning that NFL players are in some special category. Meanwhile, the MLB has a blanket anti-trust exemption, meaning that theirs is far more extensive.

  57. Let me start by saying I hate half the owners, and the other half I don’t know enough to hate. The only owner I don’t have an issue with is in Green Bay. But when some families are trying to survive on minimum wage, working multiple jobs, don’t say the NFL players have it worse than anyone in labor history. Dee, there may be issues, big issues, but Come on man.

  58. NFL owners care little for player welfare.

    That aside, Mr. Smith must not have studied U.S. labor history seriously.

    Child labor, meat industry, violent exclusion of people of color from unions, etc., etc.

  59. eaglesfan22 says:
    January 25, 2023 at 4:31 pm
    We’re supposed to feel sorry for these guys? Has there ever been an organization that turned as many jock neanderthals into multi-millionaires? Without the league, most of these guys are driving and loading trucks for UPS.

    ———————————-

    I’ve been a driver for UPS for over twenty-five years. It’s a great company. I probably deliver in your parents’ neighborhood. I’d bet your mother thinks I look hott in my brown uniform.

  60. I feel so, so sorry for the players.

    When your career is done in 2.3 years (or less), you’ll be just like the rest of us.

    Being an NFL player is an absolute privilege, not a right.

    It ain’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than what I did for 40+ years.

  61. Crybaby. The NFLPA is a joke. They agree to dumb terms and then cry about “labor.” Like the plumber or pipe fitter who pays the players’ salaries thinks they have something in common.

  62. This is rich, coming from a millionaire who no doubt plays the “don’t you know who I am??!!” card when he gets pulled over for reckless driving.

    Quit playing the victim card people – whether you’re a millionaire or just down on your luck. All your problems are NOT someone else’s fault.

  63. Just stop. You get paid millions of dollars to play a game. Get over yourselves. Most of the dolts would be lucky to work construction if they didn’t play football.

  64. Get paid millions to do what you love and having fun at the same time is not being bullied,

  65. Andrew Carnegie has something to say about that. But yes, given how much money these players (not the owners) produce, they are seriously underpaid.

  66. Really the government needs to get rid of the NFL’s status as a legal monopoly. All the commentators here would feel the same way as Smith if there was only one company in their line of work that could employ them, take it or leave it…

  67. And the worst part is that the players, who have the worst labor deal of all of the major sports, keep picking this chucklehead to represent them! Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies!

  68. Haha, somebody didn’t pay attention to American history in high school, especially the parts about railroads and goal mines.

  69. Only someone who is INCREDIBLY ignorant of US labor relations could make a remark like Smith made. It’s like comparing shoplifting to triple homicide.

  70. I’m on the players’ side in terms of getting everything that they can…but this comment is staggeringly ignorant in terms of labor history in the US (here’s a hint—a lot of it ain’t pretty). I get trying to make your point, but maybe don’t try to one up men, women, and even children who literally died in getting labor laws to where they are today.

  71. Have you ever seen that team the Harlem Globetrotters play against every time? I think they’re called the Washington Generals. Their job is to let the Globetrotters win, but to put on a show like they’re trying. That’s what D. Smith reminds me of. It just seems like the NFL owners put D. Smith in the position he’s in, and he’s supposed to fake like he’s trying to represent the players. I’m giving the guy credit. He couldn’t possibly be as bad as he actually is, can he? Please tell me it’s all just an act. He’s really just pretending to represent the players, right?

  72. Bullies??????????

    I know without these players, the owners don’t profit, but come on……………..

    Multi million dollar contracts.

    17 week seasons.

    Paid travel and catered meals.

    State of the art gyms, personal trainers and physical therapy / treatment.

    Some folks would kick even if they had no legs.

  73. 80% of the players in the NFL would be in jail, homeless, or dead without pro football. Be thankful a children’s game pays you a salary that puts you in the top 1%

  74. We are to blame. Stop paying attention and let them all starve. We should be spending our time and money elsewhere.

  75. I’m sure the union wants it like baseball (no salary caps, nearly true free market system) but I believe baseball is about 1 generation away from death. At least MLB as we know it is. 18-22 teams start every year with zero chance at the playoffs and their fans the know it. That would not be good for the NFL.

  76. mrhogan0518 says:
    January 25, 2023 at 5:42 pm

    It’s the old 95-5 rule. Of all the money generated by the NFL the owners get 95% and the players get 5%. Seems a little out of whack to me but hey — that 5% represents a boatload.

    —————

    It’s completely out of whack because the real numbers are 49% to players and 51% to owners.

  77. De Smith is sort of right. Yes, the star players make great $ but the fringe players with no job security will never vote for a strike. As a result the NFL can push through whatever changes it wants, like 17 game seasons and 18 game seasons right around the corner. The extra games will shorten careers and make the owners that much more powerful.
    NFL = the relentless pursuit of $$$.

  78. When my father went on strike when I was a kid, the “strike pay” didn’t even cover the mortgage. We ate at soup kitchens, relatives brought food, we were lucky it was during the summer otherwise we would have had to live with relatives since we couldn’t pay for any utilities or oil heat. Mom was able to do our laundry at the neighbors etc.
    Let me know if any players did the same thing during the last “Lockout”.

  79. Teams don’t come and go?? San Diego, Oakland, St. Louis, and the list goes on… Support them or don’t. They are part of America’s socio-economic structure. Too big to fail. And, yes, bullies too.

  80. So many pro-owner boot lickers here. You’re defending billionaires. Their limitless greed is well-documented. Yes, of course Smith’s rhetoric is hyperbole, but the players deserve a bigger piece of the pie. They go out there and get their brains knocked around for fans and owners.

  81. De Smith should get a history lesson on labor wars in America. He’s no different than the NFL with that ridiculous take.

  82. Has he ever heard of John D Rockefeller or Andrew Carnegie? My God man, educate yourself DeMaurice

  83. Mike Florio knows how things work in the legal profession. Lawyers at large firms put in unbelievable number hours and very few make fifty-percent of what top NFL QBs take home p.a. Ivy league guys in Wall Street experience similar long hours and their pay is no where near NFL elite players. Meanwhile, at the sign of economic slow down, no one is safe from layoff.
    As ever, it is the elites of the NFLPA who gripe loudest. Most of the “rank and file” union members are smart enough to figure out how the law of unintended consequences has always won. Notwithstanding, it is necessary to keep ownership honest. And the elites of the NFLPA too.

  84. Professional sports, and the NFL in particular, breaks standard economic models completely. In most businesses the owner invest their own money and accept all the risk of failure to ensure a business’ success and deserve to reap the benefits of a successful investment. In addition, their employees are paid partially based on the value they bring to the organization, but also partially based on their next best alternative. The going rate for a software developer is a certain amount because they are in high demand and they can go work at another company.

    In the NFL, the next best alternative for any player is basically nothing in terms of making money playing football. The XFL, CFL options are not really the same. At the same time, the popularity of the sport is peaking, the demand is extreme, the pie is growing and Owners have an endless amount of increasing revenue. Given there are few athletes that can play at the level that creates all the demand, the athletes deserve their share.

    It’s really a huge bubble that exists outside the normal economy. It’s not something that is sustainable forever.

  85. As a union guy I get it, but I’d still say coal miners have been far more exploited. Somewhere on the exploit list are the Amazon workers who tried to unite and got squashed.

  86. usfl4ever says:
    January 25, 2023 at 9:23 pm
    Only someone who is INCREDIBLY ignorant of US labor relations could make a remark like Smith made.
    +++++++++++++++++++

    Not to meniton totally self-absorbed and self-important.

  87. It is the most popular and profitable sport in america because the players have not been allowed to kill the competitive balance like they have in the NBA and MLB.

  88. The NFLPA only has themselves to blame.

    The overwhelming majority of their members can’t afford to fight the battles that have to be won.

  89. tonybanksfan says:
    January 25, 2023 at 4:42 pm
    He really said that playing in the NFL is (probably) worse than slavery. Quite a take.
    ——————————————
    Did he? I don’t see that quote anywhere.

    Smith has overstated his case, but he still has a point. It doesn’t matter how much player salaries are, the owners control everything and have all the power.

  90. NFL owners are very greedy, players deserve a bigger percentage of revenue. As long as contracts are not guaranteed. That will ruin the game.

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