NFL players are arguably the most high-profile union members in the United States.
When they go to work each Sunday (or Monday or Thursday night) millions of Americans watch from the comfort of their homes, a friend’s living room or the neighborhood sports bar.
As very public faces of the labor movement, NFL players, like New Orleans Saints Quarterback Drew Brees, have a unique opportunity to draw national attention to workers' rights.
Dave Zirin, sports editor for The Nation magazine, wrote a powerful column this week, “Drew Brees, Union Power and the Big Payback,” about why Brees, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, has not received a firm contract from the Saints. He suggests Brees is getting “payback” for sticking by his union.
In fall 2010, it was Brees who led a procession onto the field in full view of the Sunday Night Football cameras with one finger in the air, a symbol that both teams—the Saints and Vikings—were actually one team united against ownership. The voice of the NFL establishment, Al Michaels, a proud political conservative, condemned it from the NBC booth, saying—with an eye roll, “There’s nothing like a labor statement to start the season.” As for the NFL owners, like the elephant who symbolizes their political affection, they don’t forget. But Brees proceeded without concern for any kind of payback. After all, he brought a Super Bowl victory to New Orleans. He was untouchable. As the team’s union representative and member of the NFLPA executive board, Brees remained outspoken and was one of the lead plaintiffs in the lockout lawsuits against the NFL.
Several weeks ago CBS Sports reported the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) issued a formal request to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding Brees' contract impasse with the Saints, asking the league investigate whether the negotiations were in good faith.
Could there be a possible management backlash against Brees for being pro-union?
Brees’ former teammate Scott Fujita told Zirin,
In recent years Drew has taken some strong positions against league management. He doesn’t have to do this, but he chooses to because he knows it’s the right thing to do, and because he’s a natural leader who all players look to and respect. That’s quite rare for someone of his stature. He has great conviction.
No Discrimination: There shall be no discrimination in any form against any player by the NFL, the Management Council, any Club or by the NFLPA because of race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, or activity or lack of activity on behalf of the NFLPA.
Monday, July 16 at 3p.m. is the contract deadline for Brees and New Orleans. Let’s hope the Saints do the right thing, just as Brees has done for his teammates and his fellow union members.
The Super Bowl is the most watched program in the history of this country. Drew Brees has been one of the faces of this league since the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010. If he can be spanked like an unruly child for the crime of standing with his union, what does that portend for the public sector worker in Ohio, the Chicago teacher who just voted to go on strike or the Starbucks barista trying to start a union? I’m not saying that Drew Brees is some kind of Joe Hill with a tight spiral, but this is about ensuring that anyone who wants a union or is in a union can speak out in defense of their livelihood.