BY EVAN WEINER
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
National Football League fans probably aren't paying too much attention to what might happen once the Super Bowl rolls around. Locally the New York Giants, Jets and Philadelphia Eagles fans are gearing up for a December playoff run but in Washington, DeMaurice Smith is plotting strategy as NFL owners and officials of the NFL Players Association are about ready to face off in a much bigger game than the Super Bowl.
The league's collective bargaining agreement with the players nearly ends after the NFL Pro Bowl in Hawaii in February. The old CBA expires on March 3 but the real lockout for NFL customers and fans, if the owners and players don't reach an agreement, could start in April with no mini camps and by July, there could be no training camps. It is unclear whether the league can even conduct a draft if there is no CBA in place.
The dispute is all about money. NFL players take about 59 percent of league-generated revenues and the NFL wants to scale that back to 41 percent.If there is a lockout, NFL players and perhaps NFL retired players will be impacted as the owners do not intend to fund the NFL pension plan or pay for life insurance. The league no longer has to put money aside for that under the terms of the expiring labor agreement. The owners will use that money for a lockout fund.
Present and former players need to find out how the defunding of those programs will impact their lives.
DeMaurice Smith, the political operative who served on President Barack Obama's transitional committee, could spring into action and shake up not only the football industry, but members of Congress and the zombie Washington, DC/national media by going on a public relations tour which should include the most unlikely of places.
A visit to that noted football fan's radio show, Rush Limbaugh and other carnival barkers.
Smith should bring with him a number of discarded football players who are suffering from brain damage or other physical ailments and start talking about the loss of benefits for these players and what happens if the NFL players actually lose their health benefits in the course of the lockout. He should also talk about the number of players in assisted living facilities and who might be paying for their care.
Smith, the political insider, should appear before the GOP controlled House of Representatives and tell presumed House leader John Boehner of Ohio and Virginia's Eric Cantor that you figure out what to do with my players if they lose their health benefits. After all, Smith should say, you want to repeal the new health care law and one of the provisions you would eliminate is that insurance companies could say no to my clients because of pre-existing conditions and all players have pre-existing conditions.
Who will pay for their care?
Smith would put a face to all of those with pre-existing conditions and put Congressmen Boehner, Cantor and all the others who want to repeal the health care law in a box. He would also force the Washington media, most of whom are probably planning the 2011 White House Correspondence Dinner, to examine the health care issue in a different light because the gladiators of Sunday — the players of the most popular sport in America — would been seen as advocates for health care as they do have pre-existing conditions.
The only people reporting on discarded football players come from the sports media at this point.
The Washington media would have to report on something other than polls and conservative right wing talk show hosts like Limbaugh, who have to actually face someone who is more articulate than they are, will be forced to have an honest, two-way conversation about health care. Smith should also hit the so-called cable TV news channels including FOX and MSNBC and get into a real dialogue instead of the usual in your face food fights that passes for news in these environments. He should appear on the Sunday talk shows and the network morning fares. He should engage in a full media blitz and take with him the "discarded" players.
More than a handful of former players are collecting social security and using Medicare assistance to take care of their health needs because the NFL is not paying for medical insurance down the road for former players. Smith needs to point this out to Boehner, Cantor, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and all the other members of the Senate and the House. It is a story that needs to be told and probably explained to the football crazy Washington insiders who appear at Washington Redskins home games because that is a place to be seen.
Smith should start his tour during the NFL playoffs. If Smith reached out to the retired and discarded players, they would jump on the opportunity to educate the Boeheners, Cantors, McConnells and the Washington media on issues that affect "real Americans" like the ones politicians always talk about and the media always reports on.
Smith can use some political leverage too. Elections have consequences that are often not reported by national or local media. With Barack Obama's election in 2008, the National Labor Relations Board changed and because there is a Democrat in the White House, there is a good chance that Smith can eventually use the National Labor Relations Board to his advantage.
Democrats are seen as pro workers while Republicans are seen as pro business and the NLRB reflects that.
Smith might decide that the National Football League Players Association should decertify — although he runs the risk that another group of players might want to form a new association — and file a complaint with the NRLB about the negotiations and see whether or not the NFL owners are engaging in fair collective bargaining negotiations.
During the Bill Clinton presidency, the Major League Baseball Players Associations appealed to the National Labor Relations Board in 1995. The baseball players filed for injunctive relief under Section 10(j) of the National Labor Relations Act. Under the provisions of Section 10(j), the players sought a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board for injunctive relief and so they could go to a federal district court and ask for an injunction if a party is found to be negotiating in bad faith to preserve the status quo.