What all this means is that our families will lose their health coverage, injured players will no longer get treated by our doctors and trainers, and games could be cancelled. Do I expect anyone to feel sorry for us? Absolutely not. The real issue is what’s at stake for everyone involved in the business of football and the undeniable impact that a lack of football will reap. Each NFL city is expected to lose about $150,000,000. Trust me, the city of Cleveland can’t afford that. And as for the city of New Orleans, whose economy is so dependent on the service industry and visitors staying in their hotels and eating in their restaurants, it’s just not fair to them. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones recently claimed a lockout wouldn’t be all that devastating. For someone with his level of influence, that’s one of the most irresponsible things I’ve heard yet. This is much bigger than some gripe the owners have with the players.
So what’s the gripe? In a nutshell, the owners are demanding that the players play two more games each year AND take an 18% pay-cut. And when we ask why, they tell us it’s none of our business. The players are willing to be reasonable about this, and if we knew the NFL had fallen on hard times and that sacrifices were a must, then that’s a different story. But as we all know, the league is doing just fine. Revenues are as high as they’ve ever been and the fan-base is growing every year. This season, TV ratings for regular season NFL games blew the World Series out of the water. The NFL has negotiated TV deals that will pay them $4.5 billion in 2011…even if NO games are played. So when we ask them to explain how the “current economic model is broken,” I think that’s a pretty justifiable question.
And this season, when it comes to player safety, the NFL suddenly pretended to be the flag-bearers for our health and well-being. This comes after years of denying even the possibility of a link between the game of football, concussions, and long-term traumatic brain injury. And despite the raised level of awareness concerning our post-career health realities, they still want two more games and haven’t even suggested any improvements in post-career care. Their hypocrisy infuriates me. Right now we get just five years of coverage after leaving this game. Five. And that’s only if you’re lucky enough to become vested. In the meantime, more and more of our brothers fall victim to ALS, dementia and depression, among other afflictions. My heart screams for these men. Add to that the hip and knee replacements that are sure to come up 10, 15, 20 years after we stop playing. And through the whole PR battle that’s currently being waged, in what some are calling a battle of greed between “millionaires and billionaires,” the players have asked for nothing. Ultimately, we just want to be taken care of after we leave this game. My message to the NFL: You say you care about us…Now please, prove it. For the sake of guys like Andre Waters, O.J. Brigance, Orlando Thomas, Earl Campbell and Mike Webster…prove it.
Linebacker, Cleveland Browns
Executive Committee, NFLPA