For once, NFL players are on the right side of labor dispute

For more than 15 years in sports media, I’ve been as consistent and predictable as rain in Seattle on the issue of strikes and lockouts in professional leagues. It has been my default position that in the never-ending battle between billionaire owners and millionaire players, the owners should always win.

That position changes today. At least a little.

Admittedly, my logic has been somewhat oversimplified on these matters: The owners are the bosses, and the players are the employees. If the players don’t like the pay or the benefits, they can quit the company — and the industry — and go do something else for a living. Period.

My argument has been that most owners have spent lifetimes earning their fortunes, so when they make the enormous investment required to purchase a professional sports franchise, they certainly deserve the lion’s share of the return on that risk.

By contrast, the players’ investments usually amount to little more than using their God-given physical talents to make millions of dollars playing kids’ games.

For most fans, watching athletes flying around the field wearing diamond earrings that cost more than our cars — and driving cars that cost more than our homes — makes it difficult to feel sorry for them when they engage in these contractual staring contests with owners. We want them to blink, collect their already overly inflated paychecks, and get back into the damn game.

This time around, however, as the NFL Players Association prepares for the March lockout that it believes to be inevitable, I think its members have a legitimate gripe.

My support for the players in this instance has nothing to do with compensation, mind you, for reasons already stated. The owners want a larger piece of the overall revenue pie in the next collective bargaining agreement, due to higher overhead costs, but the players will not agree to a smaller slice unless the owners open their books and make public their profit-loss ledgers.

Rubbish, I say. A data manager for Facebook doesn’t get to see Mark Zuckerberg’s tax returns before accepting his salary. He takes the offer or he leaves it.

Rather, I’ve got the players’ backs in this face-off when it comes to the 18-game schedule the owners are trying to force them to play, without a corresponding increase in pay and health benefits and a well-expanded roster to offset the substantially higher physical toll on the players’ bodies, and the inevitable injuries that will result.

Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross recently tried to advance the ridiculous notion that the injury rate wouldn’t change because two preseason games would be dropped under the new proposal, keeping the total schedule at 20 games per team.

If this were a court of law, the idiocy of that insulting statement alone — placing physical demands of preseason games on even par with regular season games — would result in a directed verdict in favor of the players.

The 18-game schedule proposal also makes a mockery of the league’s newly professed concerns for player safety, which has manifested itself in hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines against defensive players for having the audacity to hit offensive players in a tackle-football league. Even offensive players, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hines Ward, have spoken out against the hypocrisy.

If the league was truly interested in the health and well-being of its players, it would take every penny of those ridiculous fines and put them into a fund for retired players battling lifelong injuries sustained while playing in the league.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for that offer.

No, it’s not easy supporting the players in most contractual stalemates. But in this one, it’s the right thing to do.

Bob Frantz is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@sfexaminer.com.

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