The NFL Players Association Fifty Years Ago

Posted February 26th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

Gene Gedman (back left) was a team representative for the NFL players association in 1958

The blog of former Oakland Raider Dave Pear recently published the minutes of an NFL Players Association meeting from January 24, 1958.  The meeting minutes show that ten players were in attendance along with players association attorney Creighton Miller.  Miller was working for the Cleveland Browns when two Browns players approached him about helping form a players association.  The thirty-three year old attorney agreed to work with NFL players to improve their working conditions, salaries, and benefits.  Creighton Miller played football at Notre Dame but never played professional football.  Instead, he attended Yale Law School.

The NFL Players Association was formed in 1956 but the majority of team owners refused to recognize the group.  The association laid the foundation of fighting for the rights of NFL players.  To demonstrate some of the early battles between labor and management, the ten players participating in the 1958 meeting felt that progress was being made now that most teams were providing shoulder pads and helmets for players.  Previously, players purchased their own equipment and uniforms.

Bob Walston, who played 12 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, complained that his teammates “feel that it is unfair that the players must sign away workmens compensation benefits while playing ball.”

NFL players of this era played football with ineffective shoulder pads and without the benefit of face masks on their helmets.  These same players were forced to sign away their workmens compensation benefits.  This left them with few options for health care.  Private health insurance will not cover work related injuries for professional athletes.  These athletes paid for their medical expenses related to NFL injuries which occurred while wearing little protective equipment.  Currently, many of these 70 and 80 year old retired players struggle to pay for the medical care related to their football injuries with poverty level NFL pensions.

The fight for better pensions is nothing new to NFL players.  In 1957,  NFL players were empowered after the Supreme Court ruled in Radovich v. National Football League.   The court stated that the NFL was subject to antitrust laws.  It was the threat of further antitrust litigation that motivated NFL team owners to finally grant players pensions once they turned 65 years old.  In 1958, players were trying to convince owners that proceeds from one preseason game should go toward player pensions.  Many owners were hesitant to even contribute this amount.

Pensions were not the only thing on players mind in the early days of the NFL.  Players lobbied teams to buy better protective gear.  With the lack of effective protective gear, players hoped to live to age 65 when they would finally be eligible to collect their pensions.

Cleveland Browns owner Paul Brown had a strong dislike for the players association.  So much so that he had the players association attorney, Creighton Miller, removed from a team picture that was taken while Miller was a Cleveland Browns employee.

“What Paul Brown did with the photo shows how most of the owners felt about the players association back then,” Creighton Miller told The New York Times in 1982.

To view a copy of the minutes from the 1958 meeting of the NFL players association click HERE.

Who Does the NFLPA Represent?

Posted February 24th, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

ESPN’s Outside the Lines recently ran a story about the Houston Texans violating the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement by conducting “contact” drills during the offseason.  The piece focuses on three Houston Texans offensive linemen who all suffered season ending injuries on May 9, 2008,while participating in a banned pass rush drill during offseason workouts.  The league’s labor agreement says players are prohibited from wearing pads during offseason drills.  The agreement also states that there will be no “contact work” such as pass rushing drills.

ARTICLE XXXVI Section 4. Contact: There will be no contact work (e.g., “live” blocking, tackling, pass rushing, bump-and-run)
or use of pads (helmets permitted) at minicamps.

ESPN reported that NFLPA player representative Kris Brown and NFLPA Executive Committee member Mark Bruener confronted Texans head coach Gary Kubiak to inform him that pass rushing drills are prohibited during the offseason.  According to Texans offensive lineman Dan Stevenson, Kubiak told the union reps that the coaches would run practice as they wanted and the drill continued to take place.  Bruener and Brown have declined interview requests regarding this matter.

Texans offensive lineman Dan Stevenson suffered what could be a career ending shoulder injury while participating in the prohibited full contact drill.  Stevenson filed a grievance against the Texans for the alleged violation of the CBA.

The NFL Management Council rejected the grievance because the “Texans deny […] players were required to participate in drills which are explicitly prohibited.”

Stevenson brought a video camera into the Texans meeting room and made his own video of the prohibited drill.

“They can no longer deny the fact that this drill ever happened,” Stevenson told ESPN.

The Texans medical staff initially diagnosed Stevenson’s injury as a shoulder strain.  When Stevenson obtained the medical opinion of an independent physician he was diagnosed with multiple tears in his right shoulder. Even though Stevenson paid $10,000 in dues to the NFLPA in 2008 he felt the need to hire his own attorney outside of the union legal department to represent him in his claim against the Texans.

Five year NFL veteran, Jordan Black, also suffered a season ending injury that day.  One month after the injury ocurred the Texans released Black from their roster.  The Texans stated that Black did not suffer an injury during the workout and that the team would not pay for his shoulder surgery.  In September, the Texans agreed to reimburse Black for his medical expenses but also stated the reimbursement “does not constitute evidence nor any admission of the Club’s liability.”

The third player to suffer a season ending injury that day, Chukky Okobi, a seven year NFL veteran, was released by the Texans in June of 2008 and has not signed with another team.

ESPN’s Outside The Lines attempted to interview the Texans head coach, general manager, and general counsel but they refused to take part in the interviews.

Who does the NFLPA represent?  The union has made it clear that they do not represent retired players.  The fact that the NFLPA does not enforce the CBA for active players who pay $10,000 annually in dues is inexcusable.  Why even have a union if the rights of its members are not going to be defended?  Why have a collective bargaining agreement if its terms are not going to be enforced?

Article II Section 2 of the CBA states, “The NFLPA and the Management Council will use their best efforts to faithfully carry out the terms and conditions of this Agreement and to see that the terms and conditions of
this Agreement are carried out in full by players and Clubs.”

Teams have conducted these prohibited drills for years.  The prohibition of pass rushing in the offseason is meant to protect the players.  When players suffer injuries the medical expenses are paid out of the players’ share of NFL revenues.  This is money that could be used for player salaries or retiree benefits.  The owners are not held responsible for any of the medical expenses.

The average NFL career is a short 3.5 years.  How many players will be willing to endure a season long strike or lockout when it costs them nearly one-third of their earning capacity as a professional athlete?  The NFLPA should be doing all that it can to lengthen the average NFL career.

The union has not enforced the terms of the CBA for its active player membership.  It’s difficult to believe they will fight for the rights of retired players that are incorporated into the labor agreement.

The retirement and disability plan are incorporated into Article XLVII of the CBA, but players are left to hire their own attorneys when their claims for disability benefits are denied.

So, who does the NFLPA represent?


Click on the photo to view the video segment which appeared on ESPN's Outside The Lines

NFLPA Files Notice of Appeal in Retired Players Group Licensing Lawsuit

Posted February 3rd, 2009 by RetiredPlayers

As expected, the NFLPA has filed a notice of appeal regarding the recent award of $28.1 million to retired players.  A jury awarded the money after they found that the union had breached its’ fiduciary duty to retired players who signed a group licensing agreement from February 14, 2004 to February 14,2007.

The NFLPA states that issues to be raised on appeal are:

Whether the jury’s fiduciary duty damages award was based on sufficient and proper evidence; whether the district court committed reversible instructional and evidentiary errors; whether the district court erred in certifying — and denying Defendants’ motion to decertify — the GLA Class; whether there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s $21 million punitive damages award; whether there was sufficient evidence that Defendants owed a fiduciary duty to the GLA Class.  

The notice of appeal comes just days after the NFLPA’s outside counsel, Jeffrey Kessler, told The New York Times that active and retired players should unite. 

“I’d like to see retired players and active players come together,” Kessler said. “I’m sure that’s going to be on the table with the new executive director, whoever that new executive director is.”

Perhaps those words will ring true with the NFLPA’s next Executive Director.  A jury of ten saw things differently than the current union administration.  It took less than three weeks of testimony for the jury to reach their unanimous verdict.

You can view a copy of the notice of appeal by clicking HERE.

Video of Annual NFLPA Super Bowl Week Press Conference

Posted February 2nd, 2009 by RetiredPlayers
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The NFLPA held their annual press conference on January 30, 2009, in conjunction with the Super Bowl festivities in Tampa.  Director of Communications Carl Francis, Interim Executive Director Richard Berthelsen, and NFLPA President Kevin Mawae all took the podium.  Berthelsen began the conference speaking about the need to maintain labor peace.  Mawae discussed the highly scrutinized search process for a new Executive Director.  Even with the criticism of the search process and the pressing need to address the potential of an uncapped season in 2010, Mawae stated that the union would not meet with the complete Board of Player Representatives until March.  He also stated that the Executive Committee and Search Committee are communicating with the Board of Player Representatives through the mail.

Berthelsen returned to the podium to reveal that the NFLPA had commissioned the Chicago Partners firm to examine the current economic state of NFL teams.  The NFLPA believes the analysis shows that team values continue to rise and that there was no need for owners to opt out of its’ current agreement with the union.

Next the Interim Executive Director addressed the friction with retired players and, specifically, the retired players victory in the class action lawsuit over licensing.

Berthelsen stated from the podium, “We think there were many mistakes made legally in that trial.  We don’t think the class should have been certified to begin with and we surely think the jury’s verdict was not supported by any credible evidence in the case and therefore we’re appealing it.”

He had little else to say about the pending litigation but added attorneys Jeff Kessler of Dewey & LeBeouf and Jim Quinn of Weil, Gotshal & Manges were present to field questions about the lawsuit.

Berthelsen continued, “The truth is Gene Upshaw and the NFLPA have done as much, if not more, than any union in this country to address the issues of its’ retirees.”

He said any pension increases would have to come at the bargaining table.

Berthelsen closed the press conference by saying that if NFL owners had complete revenue sharing between teams that each team would be better able to meet their financal obligations.   With complete revenue sharing they would not have needed to opt out of the CBA.