April 12, 2011

Longtime Sports Journalist: ‘NFL players need Obama’s support’

According to his University of Maryland faculty bio, Kevin Blackistone “is a former award-winning sports columnist for The Dallas Morning News from September 1990 to September 2006.” He has written for AOL’s FanHouse; his most recent column is here); he was likely released when AOL recently laid off its FanHouse employees as a result of what I refer to as “Huffington’s Heist.”

In a Monday opinion piece at Politico (HT Hot Air) entitled “NFL players need Obama’s support,” Blackistone criticized the President of the United States for not supporting the players in their dispute with the league’s owners, and — I kid you not — said it “differs very little” from the recent public-sector collective-bargaining controversy in Wisconsin. Blackistone even brought Martin Luther King into the mix (bolds are mine):

… President Barack Obama refused early last month to support — or even get involved in — the players’ labor fight against NFL owners. He dismissed the players as millionaires fighting billionaires, saying he was more concerned about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on state-employee unions.

… Obama may have made a politically astute move by not picking a side in pro football’s offseason showdown. But it smacked of disingenuousness after he criticized as “an assault on unions” Walker’s proposal to strip public-sector employees of collective-bargaining rights. The NFL owners’ fight against the league’s proletariat, regardless of the players’ wealth or the public’s perception of it, differs very little from the Wisconsin battle.

… NFL players, like state workers in Wisconsin, deserve equitable remuneration for their labor, safeguards for their future and safer working conditions. Whether workers are pro football players, school teachers or firefighters, collective bargaining provides labor a means to negotiate with management for all concerns — hallmarks of the American working class. None of those concerns were givens; they were won by collective bargaining.

So, to riff on a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., not to stand up for unions everywhere is a threat to unions everywhere. And unions seem to be under siege across the country now.

… It may be that the majority of pro football players are even more in need of union representation than public workers because their careers are, on average, far shorter.

The careers of 50 percent of NFL players last slightly more than three years. Most wind up unemployed and unprepared for what lies ahead.

… someone has to represent players as a collective group,” (former Green Bay Packer tackle Ken) Ruettgers said.

It’s a point lost on too many — including the commander in chief.

It would be interesting to know how widespread Blackistone’s viewpoint is in sports journalism.

It’s also curious that Blackistone, in an unexcerpted paragraph, asserts that 65% of players end up with permanent injuries by the time they leave the game, given that neither side in the current stalemate seems particularly concerned about the plight of many of the game’s old-timers:

(Former Chicago Bears player and coach Mike) Ditka is affiliated with Gridiron Greats, an organization which provides financial assistance and coordinates social services to dire-need retired NFL players who are considered pioneers of the game.

“We’ve got about seven medical complexes around the country that give pro-bono service, surgery and rehab to guys,” Ditka said of Gridiron Greats. “Why can’t the league do that? We did it. Now we’ve got a dental program coming to fix the old guys’ teeth. We did it. Why can’t they?”

In one notable case, that lack of concern extends to shocking (at least to me) indifference:

When the players decertified their union on March 11, Saints quarterback Drew Brees posted on Twitter the motivation of the players to seek satisfaction in the courts rather than through negotiation with the owners.

“Past players sacrificed a great deal to give us what we have now in the NFL, and we will not lay down for a second to give that up,” Brees tweeted. “We have a responsibility and at some point you just have to stand up for what is right.”

However, in January 2009, Brees had a different take on past players and their financial plights.

“There’s some guys out there that have made bad business decisions,” Brees told USA Today. “They took their pensions early because they never went out and got a job.

“They’ve had a couple divorces. And that’s why they don’t have money. And they’re coming to us to basically say, ‘Please make up for my bad judgment.’”

Ditka professed not to be a Brees fan.

“I have no respect for the guy,” Ditka said. “I don’t care how good he is.

Brees’s sentiments are hardly an expression of the kind of solidarity Kevin Blackistone seems to expect from “the league’s proletariat.”

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


1 Comment

  1. [...] Longtime Sports Journalist: 'NFL players need Obama's support … [...]

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