The National Football League (NFL) is a professional sports league that oversees professional American football teams in North America. As with the other major professional sports leagues in the United States, the NFL is subject to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). In professional sports, a CBA is an agreement that is agreed upon by the owners of the teams as well as the players in the league. This agreement outlines the rights of both management (the owners) and the labor (the players). CBAs are commonly used in employment situations where there is a union that represents the employees. The purpose of the CBA is to have a mutually agreed upon understanding for the labor and management to deal properly with the other side. As with all CBAs, the CBA of the NFL outlines items such as salary, disciplinary actions and rules for both management and labor. It also outlines the agreements about the use of performance-enhancing drugs by the players. The use of testing for these drugs on the players in recent years has been a source of controversy, even with the agreements made during collective bargaining (Forgues).
Collective bargaining agreements are often referred to as a “contract.” As a contract, it is a legal and binding agreement held between the two sides. The term “collective bargaining” refers: “to the process in which working people, through their unions, negotiate contracts with their employers to determine their terms of employment, including pay, benefits, hours, leave, job health and safety policies, ways to balance work and family and more” (AFL-CIO). In recent years, the ability of employees to collectively bargain with employers for rights has come under significant scrutiny. Politicians have worked, in highly publicized cases, to limit the rights of collective bargaining by public employees, such as teachers, firefighters and public works employees. For this reason, the term “collective bargaining” has often been in the news in the past several years. However, not all individuals may realize that collective bargaining applies to professional athletes as well. Most individuals become aware of it when players threaten a strike, which stops a professional sports season. These strikes are obviously extremely costly to the players, the owners and the countless individuals who depend upon the sports season for their paychecks. The players may threaten a strike because they do not have a current CBA. If they do not agree with the terms of the CBA they are being offered by management, the players may choose to strike. This is similar to any union striking because they lack a contract. Normally, a CBA is not reached because the two sides cannot agree upon the terms for the CBA.
Some individuals may question why professional athletes, such as NFL players, require a CBA. The reality is that these individuals are paid quite well to do a job many individuals would love to do. However, it is important to recognize that these players deserve protections in the same manner that other employees deserve to be protected. In recent years, the information that football may lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has become an important issue. CTE is a condition that is believed to have led to multiple suicides in retired players. It is also believed to be associated with the development of other neurological conditions. Many retired players believe that the NFL kept this important information from them. This information focused on the long-term impact of multiple concussions, a common occurrence for football players. These players are now attempting to sue the NFL for negligence. The issue of a CBA is an important part of this legal drama. The NFL maintains that the players cannot sue them because of the CBA. According to the NFL, the players agreed to the use of an arbitrator rather than a judge when they signed their CBA (Belson and Hurdle).
The football players also require protections in a similar manner to other employees. Additionally, the CBA allows the management to outline how they expect their players to be treated and to treat one another. The CBA also must reflect the developing attitudes towards acceptance. The NFL’s CBA recently implemented a major change to it. In recent years, there has been significant focus on whether or not a member of an NFL team will identify himself as gay. It is inconceivable to believe that no member of an NFL team is gay. However, for a team member to identify himself as such has raised concerns about how the individual will be treated. These concerns focus not only on the management, but also on the other players. The NFL has ensured that any player who decides to identify himself as gay will be protected. In September, 2011, the NFL inserted a sexual orientation protection clause into the CBA. According to an article in a newspaper at the time, “The NFL has removed a hurdle for professional football players who may be thinking of coming out as gay, banning discrimination based on ‘sexual orientation’” (Terkel).
While the CBA offers protections to both the management and players, the benefits to either side may change with each new contract ratified. In the recent contract, some have argued that the owners obviously won the negotiations. According to a July 21, 2103 article in the Boston Globe, the Green Bay Packers released financial statements that indicated their profits increased significantly since the last CBA was ratified. The team showed a twenty-six percent increase in its profits over a one-year period after the CBA was ratified. Based upon this, the writer asserts that all of the teams are probably enjoying massive profits as well. As for the players, the author contends that they have suffered as a result of the current CBA. “The players? The rookie pool has been slashed, young players are locked into unfavorable contracts, and the money isn’t trickling to the veterans, who are getting priced out of the NFL, even at minimum salaries” (Volin).
Collective bargaining agreements are necessary for the NFL. As with other employment situations, the CBA merely works to ensure that mutually agreed upon conditions and rules are established for both the players and the owners. While not everyone may agree with the point of a CBA in professional sports, these athletes deserve protection as employees. Management also deserves to be treated fairly as well. A CBA ensures that both sides agree upon the conditions of employment.
- AFL-CIO. “Collective Bargianing.” N.d. 22 January 2014.
- Belson, Ken and Hurdle, John. “Crowded Courtroom for NFL Lawsuit.” The New York Times. 9 April 2013. 22 January 2014. < http://www.nytimes.com
- Forgues, Brittney. Collective Bargaining Agreements and What has Changed in the NBA and NFL. Massachusetts School of Law. April 2012. 22 January 2014. http://mslaw.edu