Old proverb: When somebody says ‘it’s not about the money’, you know it’s about the money. Will Leitch, at NYMag, explains “Why the New Head of the Players Union Is a Hero for Progressive Sports Fans“:
My past is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.
Man, what a quote that is. Wouldn’t it feel fantastic to be enough of a badass to say that with a straight face?
The person who actually did? An incredible woman named Michele Roberts, a longtime attorney called, by Washingtonian magazine, “the finest pure trial lawyer in Washington.” Now she is setting her sights on the insular, complacent, owner-friendly world of sports as the new head of the National Basketball Players Association. If you’re looking for the one person most likely to alter the world of sports most dramatically over the next decade, it’s not LeBron James or Roger Goodell. It’s this 58-year-old woman sitting in her office in Harlem, ready to watch the sports world burn.
We’re more than three years away from the earliest point the current NBA collective-bargaining agreement could end, so it was surprising to see the new NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, still with a bit of a halo from the way he handled Donald Sterling, release an angry statement on November 13 about a players-union chief. He had to punch back, fast, because Roberts had come out and, in one of her first interviews since getting the job (with ESPN’s Pablo S. Torre), exploded some of the primary myths surrounding the economics of professional sports — the ones that shield owners from public scrutiny as they extract as much value from the fragile bodies of the athletes they employ before those bodies break down…
… The dirty secret of the past two decades of sports labor peace is that almost all of it is the result of player concessions. Sports labor unions have long been among the most powerful unions in the U.S., but even they’ve suffered in the wake of unions’ collective national erosion. In Major League Baseball, the players’ share of revenue has fallen nearly 20 percent in the past 20 years despite that figure jumping from $1.2 billion to $8 billion. In the NFL, it’s down to 47 percent from 50; in the NBA, to around 50 from 57. And remember, those growing owners’ shares are of massively booming revenue…
It’s clear now that Roberts is leading with a machete. Because, as commonsensical as her views might seem to those with something other than a professional involvement in sports, they’re downright radical to those inside the sports world; to Silver, she might as well be a columnist for The Nation…
I clicked the link for once. Regrettably, aside for the information about the declining share of revenue going to players’ salaries, I found the article extremely contentless.
Yeah, that whole “millionaires v billionaires” bullshit.
Listen. Those people make a lot of money and we shouldn’t feel bad that they get paid a bunch to play a game.
But the reality is they are unionized, and just as much on the decline as all the rest of union labor. Don’t let the money aspect split you from what we’re really talking about.
“Progressive Sports Fans”
For holy fuck’s sake, does everything have to be political? Yeah, there are problems in the business of sports, both at the collegiate level and the professional level. But don’t turn this into a red/blue thing. Seriously, sports is one of those places where we can all come together and laugh at the Raiders, hate the Yankees, and debate the value of a good point guard without fist fights at family gatherings.
I think the next big push in sports revenue distribution, if they really want me to care, doesn’t need to be whether more owner money is transferred to players in a way that the next $150 million contract becomes a $200 million contract.
Rather, there should be more emphasis on (a) contracts that set money aside to take care of the broken bodies of those 1-5 year guys who may never have made the big paychecks to set them up for life (include the practice squad guys, for example). Anyone who ever lined up against an NFL player, either on Sunday or during the week in full contact practice, should have a comprehensive medical insurance policy for life paid for by the NFL. Similar deals should be worked out for basketball, and to a lesser degree baseball. And those policies should include disability when inability to work is tied directly to an injury they incurred at the professional level.
Also (b) more money needs to be fed back to community sports programs. It’s an absolute crime when a team owner has a city build stadium/ballpark/arena in which to perform … which they pay no local property taxes on because it’s a government property being leased to them (often at a fraction of the cost of maintenance, much less something which recoups the original investment made in the stadium) … sits not far from public high schools which are needing to eliminate sports because the tax money isn’t there to support extracurriculars.
I anticipate Thanksgivings with my in-laws with some trepidation precisely because of the killer arguments over football. This year I lucked out – all the teams the various members of the family root for have been having mediocre-to-horrible seasons, so football never came up.
Ah, but just suggest that the players are sacrificing their health and in too many cases their lives for a dwindling share of the take and see if those red relatives don’t scram bloody murder with the same shit they do about Wal-mart and McDonalds.
I’m a white collar professional; If me and my fellow professionals decide that a rival profession is taking home our lunch, we don’t hesitate for a moment to lobby, and make it damned political.
I guess when we do it behind closed doors of the state capital, it isn’t called “political” . That term is reserved for workers who take their negotiations to the halls of public opinion, not the legislature.
Seriously, do you not realize at this point that labor vs fatcats is, and always has been, inherently political?
Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN)
I wish her the best of luck but the NBPA has collapsed like a house of cards every time they’ve been pushed. The financial incentives for the top players all run counter to sticking with a labor action and it’s an industry in which, if the stars bail, the union’s position falls apart.
The genius of Marvin Miller was in recognizing the value of free agency and fighting for it. That gave the stars incentive to stay on board. But once the free agency genie was out of the bottle, the other sports leagues recognized that the stars were going to get paid big dollars, giving them a large piece of it and then daring them to sacrifice any of their few prime earning years to a strike.
I hope it’s different for them this time.
Mr Stagger Lee
O/T But I like to give props to 5 members of the St. Louis Rams who in the spirit of Tommie Smith and John Carlos of the Olympic Black Power salute fame, came out with the Hands Up Don’t Shoot salute at the beginning of the game. And needless to say White Fans aren’t too happy.
@Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN): With MLB – I’m convinced the owners have strengthened their position not by giving the stars a big chunk … but by allowing minimum salaries to become so large.
MLB’s minimum salary next year is $507,000. That means a marginal player who votes to strike is risking 2-3 years of a paycheck that will set him up for life if properly managed.
Did you ever read Babe Ruth’s quote when told he was making more than the POTUS? “Well, I had a better year than him”. Well, since 2011, every single MLB player makes more money than the POTUS. At this point, 50% of MLB players have no reason to participate in a strike that will make Mike Trout’s next contract worth half-a-billion dollars … since Mike Trout isn’t going to do anything for them.
wrt the NBA, I’ve been told by a business guy for a franchise that under the current CBA teams pretty much break even on the regular season – and make their money in the playoffs. Of course, thanks to scarcity, franchise values keep going up. But I’m not sure how much more money the NBA players are going to be able to extract from the system.
@Mr Stagger Lee: Good for them!
Course they are only supposed to entertain their white benefactors, ya know, ‘run n*gg** run’.
Very interested to see how her tenure at the NBPA plays out and what impact it may have on all sports.
Iowa Old Lady
@Mr Stagger Lee: I saw a picture. Good for those guys.
Until the referees or players go on strike and then let’s see where the family members stand on that. Professional sports is filled with money and hence it’s tied up in politics. Hell, they make sport people go testify in front of Congress from time to time. How’s it not political already?
Yes it has to be. One of the things I noticed during the latest round of Ray Rice commentary was the many talking sports heads who said that the union should have negotiated “things like this” back during the last bargaining round…
…and also happened to be the same people who thought the players should simply shut up and go to work back when it was happening. See also Schlemazel.
mai naem mobile
Just saw on my twitter feed a hs on a s korean base is on lockdown because of a report of.an active shooter.
@Mr Stagger Lee:
Each and every sports fan in my family will vote for any politician who promises to bring the city either an NFL team or a new stadium on the taxpayer dime. And each and every one of them voted for Rob Ford because he promised to cut the “gravy” that was going to “those people”.
The one knuckle-dragging redneck in my family who has become more liberal over the years did so after washing his hands of pro sports.
ETA: Obviously, I mean the officers’ association, not the players.
It will always be the players who fold.
The overwhelming majority of owners have other wealth and other cash flow.
The overwhelming majority of players don’t.
And “less” is better than “none.”
Michele Roberts is bluffing, and if she doesn’t know it, she’s not as smart as I think she is.
@lamh36: Wow, that statement from the police is crazy. Excerpt:
They’re threatening to do something to the players and/or the Rams/NFL. I hope the players who held their hands up watch their backs.
@lamh36: As though we needed any additional evidence that that entire county-barrel of PDs is as authoritarian and seemingly above the law as their favorite recent retiree poster child. No doubt we’ll next hear their claims that fatal shootings were justified exactly because the raising of hands is in itself a threat to their safety and manly policely authority.
Can the Sounders hold on another 40 minutes? Argh. Nail biting here.
And yes, I’m wearing my 6 foot long acid green scarf.
ETA: and the answer is no.
@Mr Stagger Lee:
But given how they pounded Oakland, it might catch on.
I think the article makes a mistake by focusing on the major league players’ unions without discussing how it will affect minor leagues.
The real labour issue in pro sports is that the big unions only represent the major league players, leaving the minor leaguers to fend for themselves. Up until MLB lost the reserve clause, major league ballplayers weren’t in a very different position job-wise from AAA and lower players. Since the 1970s, the interests of the major league players have become more and more aligned with the fat cats and less and less with the guys who aren’t quite good enough to make the majors. The same thing has happened overseas since the Premier Leagues pulled away from the lower ranks in the national associations, and in college sports with the division I leagues. The big teams in the big leagues have been soaking up more and more of the available money and leaving less and less for the smaller companies that make up most of the workforce.
Culture of Truth
When they go on strike for other people, that will be interesting.
That sounds like you did not just read the thing i did, that the players fraction of total revenue has fallen from 57% to 50%.
It’s always about money.
Free ride to college, prospects for a career after. Big money for OSU athletics. Won’t stop any time soon.
@? Martin: Damn.
Are you surprised? It’s just more confirmation that these so-called police officers are a gang in uniforms.
I sincerely hope those Rams players don’t apologize cause of these fuckers.
So cops are trying to stifle free speech now. When did we become a police state where we have to walk around eggshells around police officers. They are public servants, not the Gestapo.
The Rams situation is basically a government entity (the police) trying to stifle the 1st Amendment rights of employees of a private business. Isn’t this what “big government” teabaggers always are screaming about – that government has no right to tell businesses what to do and businesses can police themselves?
I think the Rams (or the NFL) will make them apologize but I hope they don’t and take their punishment (fine, suspension, etc.) then go to the players’ union for redress.
@lamh36: I think the cops and the footballers should each send out their champion for unarmed combat.
By definition, that IS ‘Progressive’.
Just checking, but you do know that you just described every labor dispute ever, right?
@balconesfault: You do realise that is pretty normal for any gate-based business? You make all your profit from your last customers, not your first.
NFL players with fewer guaranteed dollars and more health problems in the future may have a gripe, but please, does the fact that LeBron only makes $25M a year, plus untold millions more in endorsements really a hill to die over? More importantly, while I detest almost every team owner, who invariably turn out to be assholes, the losers in any action that results in the players making even more obscene amounts are those players at lower levels who will likely make even less and the fans who would like to actually attend a game, which at this point is very difficult except for the very well off and the corporate types who can write off the expense of their tickets. If anyone thinks a stronger players union in any sport will help other unions is just nuts.
J R in WV
@lamh36: Cop mutha-fukers don’t know about freedom of speech yet!!!
Part of the founding document/law of the land, but they don’t know shit – what a surprise! Bunch of Republican racist muthas!
There ARE good cops, but that’s a real minority, just ask a good cop about his co-workers – off the record.
You know, this is a sports thread, and a darn interesting one, since it’s got my attention and I’m a walking stereotype – the gal who will watch HGTV all day but never, ever watch a ballgame.
That said, listening to the stories here about right-wing relations, I’ve gotta hand some props to my family. We are/were all born and raised Southern, and we have the drawls to prove it. Even so, there is not one damn Republican in the group. Not only are we all Democrats, we are pro-union FDR Democrats.
Two of the gifts to my mom that were big hits with her were a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt and, years later, a roll of holiday toilet paper with Reagan’s face printed on each sheet in festive holiday colors.
J R in WV
That is so, so sweet! I would give a lot for one of those. Maybe the DCC should get busy and provide a hungry market with toilet paper with G W Bush AND Ron Raygun, maybe on alternating pages?
I’d pay a lot for that if it was on my favorite Scott single ply tissue.
There’s an under-served market there, I swan there is!
@balconesfault: The players will NOT vote to protect their own if it means losing more of their share. The baseball players shafted the guys who started their union — ask Joe Garagiola about that. Even in lesser occupations, like coal mining, the younger guys will shaft the older ones because they think it might come out of their wallet. I watched that happen back in the ’70s.