International sports union leaders unveil bill of rights for players

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Leaders of international sports unions, including the unions for U.S. baseball, basketball, football, and hockey, unveiled a 17-point bill of rights for players, including the right to organize and bargain collectively, to freely speak out on issues without fear of retribution and equal pay for equal work.

The World Players Association, part of the UNI global association of unions in various fields, drafted the bill of rights. It also would ban discrimination by “race, color, birth, age, language, gender, sexual orientation, disability, pregnancy, religion, political opinion,” caregiving responsibility, “property, or any other status.”

And it declares players must “have a safe and secure workplace,” including being “treated with integrity” by teams’ health care professionals, and with control over their treatment and return to work.

The world group unveiled the document in in D.C. after a Dec. 14 meeting of 40 union leaders, including Tony Clark of the Major League Baseball Players Association, Don Fehr of the NHL Players Association, and DeMaurice Smith of the NFL Players Association. Smith’s group is part of the AFL-CIO. The others are independent.

“The men and women who play sports did not choose to give up the basic human rights we would want for every worker,” Smith said. Overall, the world group represents 100 players’ unions and 85,000 professional athletes, and the issues its document deals with have been in the forefront of player-management relations for years, notably in the U.S.

The major league baseball players have the strongest union contract of the U.S. groups, but it took strikes and successful lawsuits against owners’ collusion to achieve it. U.S. woman soccer players have had to strike and sue for equal pay for equal work.

And NFLPA and its members—70 percent of them African-American—have been at odds with some owners and with Republican President Donald Trump over the players’ freedom of speech, in the form of kneeling during pre-game performances of the Star Spangled Banner to protest frequent police shootings of unarmed African-American men.

NFL players also learned their sport leaves them with chronic traumatic encephalopathy—lifelong brain damage and deterioration—through repeated concussions, a condition NFL team doctors and trainers have long denied.

“The declaration, the first comprehensive articulation of athletes’ rights, sets a benchmark for international sporting organizations to meet their obligations to protect, respect, and guarantee the fundamental rights of players,” the baseball players said on their website. “For more than 50 years, major leaguers have stood together to advance and protect their rights, and we look forward to working with players’ associations and unions from around the world in seeking to improve the rights of all athletes,” Clark added.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.