The nation’s football players: “Let us play!”

You knew something was brewing after the National Anthem Sept. 10, 2010, at the kickoff of the NFL season, as players for the Minnesota Vikings and the New Orleans Saints came out on the field holding up their index fingers.

It wasn’t the usual “We’re number one, we’re the best” message, but a demonstration that they would “stand as one” in collective bargaining talks with the owners.

Like their fellow workers, the members of the NFL Players Association, are facing the possibility of being out of work if their bosses follow up on threats to lock them out when their contract expires March 4.

As they demonstrated before that game, the football players who shove, block and run roughshod over their opponents on the field are sending messages today that off the field and at the bargaining table they are united.

The owners have threatened to lock out the players if the union does not agree to givebacks totaling a staggering $1 billion in salary and benefits.

“This is despite making millions of dollars off the backs of the players,” said the AFL-CIO in a recent statement.

The average career length of an NFL player is just 3.4 years because of the physical toll on their bodies. Under the current collective bargaining agreement, which owners claim is already “overly generous,” players can be removed from their teams for sustaining a serious injury and get only five years of health care benefits after they retire.

During the 2010 season two thirds of NFL players suffered serious injuries, according to the union, which has just issued its first annual report, entitled “Dangers of the Game of Football.”

Injuries jumped from 3.2 to 3.7 per week last year, as opposed to the average for the previous eight years. 63 percent of the players were injured during 2010, as opposed to the prior period, when 59 percent were injured.

“We know injury is part of the game,” said Dr. Thom Mayer, medical director for the players’ association. “But the more information we gather on health and safety issues, the more likely we are to make the game safer. Because player contracts don’t guarantee against injuries the players face sudden and total ends to their careers.”

The medical issues are weighing heavily on football players because NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said repeatedly that players are responsible for health care costs during any league lockout.

The union report also deals with severity of injuries, noting that serious injuries increased in 2010, with 16 percent of all players having received severe injuries, as opposed to 11 percent in the earlier eight-year period.

Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, who was out of commission for the latter half of 2010 for a knee injury, said in a phone interview, “A football field isn’t like the typical workplace. We know we are taking a big chance that we will be injured when we play. We’re talking about more than 350 players injured last year alone.”

At the start of playoffs, Goodell sent letters to fans and ticketholders, rehashing the owners’ position that football players get paid too much.

The players have gotten together with the fans to fight back.

They planned to run a video ad called “Let us Play,” put together by players and fans, during CBS’s telecast of the NFLPA All Star Game Sat., Feb. 5, a day before the ad extravaganza during Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6. View the video at

“For us, it’s a simple issue: it’s a lockout being threatened by billionaire owners of America’s most popular sport,” said George Atallah, assistant executive director of external affairs for the players association. “And we haven’t spent a penny to get out this joint message from players and fans, “he said.

The union is entitled to two minutes airtime on the CBS telecast of the All Star Game in exchange for its participation as a sponsor.

The players association is normally cautious about doing any kind of business with the networks, which it sees as being sympathetic to the owners. CBS, for example, will continue to pay the owners $4 billion for its rights to coverage even if they lock out the players and there is nothing to cover.

As if to confirm the union’s apprehension, CBS has announced it will not run the ad.

Image: Miguel Librero // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik started as labor editor of the People's World in May, 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York. Along with being labor editor, Wojcik is a co-editor of  


  • Though it is true that footballers are able to lead comfortable lives due to the already high paychecks they are getting, that only applies to an elite few of the best players. Most players who retire due to injuries do not get covered enough. The same lockout is happening in the NBA now, and the fans are the ones suffering.

  • This is not a happy moment! To take professional football and business on the field is a sad indicator that the game is struggling. I am an avid fan and will remain so, however, our footballers deserve the rewards and should not be reduced to such behavior on the field.

  • Pensions & health care are extremely important issues for these guys. While everyone knows that “those players are all millionaires,” the very real problems these guys have when their (extremely short) careers are overwhelming. The average NFL player has only a 5 yr career! Football is unbelievably violent & a great many players retire with massive injuries. For the players who’ve retired just a few years ago, many great players that we’d all recognize, have very small pensions. Actually, player salaries only have begun to get large in 20-25 yrs.

    The stinking, conniving bastards that run the NFL are making unbelieveably high, massive profits. They hold their respective cities up for public monies to build their outrageous stadiums, (to replace perfectly good, even beloved, older ones). They get public funding of their access roads, parking, stadiums, and even then make more outrageous demands, just to stay in town. When their extortionist demands aren’t met, they move the teams, getting even more favorable extortion rates for the public in their next home. Now, these assholes are going to lock out our favorite sports teams to get try to return to a couple decades when they could pay players little, & even cut our favorite sports heroes of yesteryear meager pensions.

    The answer is contained in this year’s Super Bowl champs—the Green Bay Packers! We should find very way we can to rise the issue of public ownership of our sports teams if these thieves go away with their planned walkout. Just think of how the American people could hear this demand, & start to think about whether public ownership of the local auto plant that announced it was moving offshore might not be a bad idea too!

  • From my email on Super Bowl XLV

    A great game ending a terrific season.

    Congratulations and thanks to every player and every staff member of every team for a magnificent year of football.
    That said, the icing on the cake, for me, was the victory of the only professional sports team in the nation that is owned by its fans.
    The Green Bay Packers are owned, lock-stock-and-barrel, by the fans who receive no dividends or any other profit from owning team stock.
    The stock those fans buy have a set price. It neither rises or sinks due to casino-like speculation.
    The motivation to buy those stocks is the satisfaction of being part of the team. A team the fans know is truly theirs. A team whose successes help others.
    All profits go to an organization specifically set up to distribute those profits to various charities.
    That is why the team continues to live in the smallest city of any other professional sports team. No greed driven owner can pick up and go wherever and whenever the money grows on trees for them, and for the fans, a wave goodbye and the words “every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost.”
    The great legacy and continuing success of the Green Bay Packers organization is testament to the fallacy of superiority of privatization.

  • It is kind of hard to feel sorry for a guy who annually makes millions of dollars, sometimes tens of millions of dollars or more, and then charges $100 to autograph a photo or other item.

    The owners are worse as they want players to play an additional two games a season, and forfeit television revenue.

    A high percentage of these players live a pampered lifestyle. Ever listen to a radio interview after a game? The player gets a $100 (or more) gift certificate to some restaurant for a minute or two interview. Instead of a rich player getting that certificate why not a drawing for a listner? Better yet donate it to a food pantry.

    In this case it is the rich and the ultra rich looking to the working class fan to come to their defense. The only one to lose will be the fan who will have to pay more.

    The working class gets screwed…..again.

  • the NFL is just way too powerful and has been so for the past several years. Things are progressively getting worse.


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