NFL Football Players Showed the Power of Organizing Strategically
By Al Giordano
It’s been more than two months since I’ve posted here at The Field. Between finishing and premiering the first of our video series about the Egyptian revolution as told by its own participants (I'll post that here and tell you more about it in the coming days), receiving the 78 participants of the ten-day School of Authentic Journalism in May, editing their stories and videos ever since, with two weeks in June reporting on the road for 3,000 kilometers with Javier Sicilia and the Caravan of Solace against the drug war in 11 Mexican states and El Paso, Texas, then gathering for a week in Boston with many of the world’s foremost strategists and organizers of nonviolent civil resistances, among other pressing matters, the only media to which I’ve paid especially close attention - not having had much time to be a media consumer of late - has been the NFL Network and the daily back-and-forth of the National Football League’s lockout of players which has finally come to a happy ending after more than 130 days.
You don’t have to be obsessed with, or even like, American football to get that this was a most important story, one that marks the largest victory by labor on a national scale in the United States in a long time, and therefore carries lessons for all workers and others who organize to improve their lives. There is a superb analysis of all that the players won in The Nation today by Dave Zirin which explains some of the basics, and then I’ll fill in some other interesting details, and also invite you to participate in a project that rappels off this organizing victory as a way to create more of them.
“What the NFLPA has done is the equivalent of the Bad News Bears squeaking out a victory against the 1927 New York Yankees… It’s workers, in an age of austerity, beating back the bosses and showing that solidarity is the only way to win.
“When the lockout began, NFL’s owners had, in their judgment, and frankly mine as well, every possible advantage. They had a promise from their television partners of four billion dollars in ‘lockout insurance’ even if the games didn’t air. They had a workforce with a career shelf-life of 3.4 years, understandably skittish about missing a single paycheck. And most critically, they had what they thought was overwhelming public opinion. After all, in past labor disputes, fans sided against those who ‘get paid to play a game.’ Owners wanted more money and longer seasons and approached negotiations with an arrogance that would shame a Murdoch spawn.
“I remember talking to NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith at the start of this process, and hearing his optimism in the face of these odds, as he spoke of the bravery of workers in Wisconsin and the people of Egypt who he said were inspiring him to fight the good fight. He mentioned the books he was reading like the classic Civil Rights history Parting the Waters: America in the King Years by Taylor Branch. I remember smiling politely at De Smith and thinking, ‘This guy is going to get creamed.’
“I was very wrong…”
First, nice to hear from a journalist who can admit that his skepticism about an organized movement was overwrought. That ought to be a requirement for everybody who works in media. It turns out – once again – that those who carefully study and learn from the successful struggles of others do indeed have a good track record of winning their own.
Read the whole thing, and you’ll see the significant victories the players won. I would opine that one of the most important advances came at the beginning of the conflict, in that this movement would not allow itself to be defined by others and instead defined itself: rather than letting the media call it a “strike” by players, the NFL Players Association set to work defining the conflict as a “lockout,” putting the responsibility squarely where it belonged, on the owners, some of whom stewed in resentment since the last Collective Bargaining Agreement also won great advances for the players.
When the lockout began, the NFLPA withdrew itself from the legal status of a union, a step that allowed individual players to file lawsuits against the NFL for unfair practices. Some of the biggest star quarterbacks in the league – New England Patriot Tom Brady, Indianapolis Colt Peyton Manning and New Orleans Saint Drew Brees – were among the ten plaintiffs. When, last week, the owners voted to end the lockout, something which required a settlement of pending lawsuits, including what was known as the Brady suit, a couple of the plaintiffs (or, more properly, their agents) – San Diego Charger wide receiver Vincent Jackson and Patriot offensive lineman Logan Mankins – made noises of trying to extract personal demands for more money on their own contracts as a condition for signing on to the settlement, all hell broke loose: Other players throughout the league used their Twitter accounts (and, through them, the media) to rhetorically kick their asses back in line with the solidarity of the movement. Unity was reestablished, and this great victory was won.
I hope that the participants in the struggle write some good books about it, telling us about the strategic and tactical decisions they made at each step of the 19-week conflict, because I’m certain that the lessons learned can be applied not only to other union struggles but to all organized movements everywhere. Just as the NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith studied the strategy and tactics of Martin Luther King and drew inspiration from movements from Cairo to Madison, others will now be able to apply this battle to their own.
Now, not everybody made out as well as the players. A series of small businesses outside the NFL dedicated to the sport of fantasy football – played by 35 million people, based on the scores, yardage and other results by individual NFL players – were severely hurt by the lockout. At least one magazine went out of business. Online sites that analyze and rank players for fantasy football teams had to cut staff and many will be offering only scaled down services this year, these are also economic casualties of the NFL owners greedy gambit. In other words, a vacuum has formed, at least somewhat, when it comes to that related sport that everyday fans play at home.
Like nature, I happen to abhor a vacuum. I’m also, like many of you, an obsessive football fan, and a student of the strategies and organizing methods by head coaches who manage young and often rambunctious talent (it’s really not that different than, say, directing a School of Authentic Journalism). And so therefore, it is my great pleasure to announce today The Field’s latest innovation in the kind of low dollar fundraising that Narco News and The Fund for Authentic Journalism has pioneered over the past 11 years.
Today I invite my fellow and sister fantasy football addicts to join me in making our addiction work for a worthy cause: the world’s first-ever Fantasy Football-a-thon, to benefit The Fund for Authentic Journalism. For this venture – because I know that not all Field Hands necessarily come here looking for analysis about what happens on the football field – I’ve started a new blog exclusively for all things NFL and to report on this new fantasy league we’re forming: The Authentic League.
There, you can find out what this “Fantasy-Football-a-thon” is all about, and see if it is something you might also have fun playing while astounding your fans – and many other readers - with your own fantasy football prowess. And even if you play in different leagues, I’ll be offering my own analysis throughout the upcoming preseason and season because, after all, projecting sporting results is not really all that different from predicting primary and election results, something that I’ve done pretty well at over the years.
Basically, I decided that if I am going to have an obsession with something as silly to many people as a professional sport, I might as well make it count for something good while doing it, while also bringing the good news of the Authentic Journalism Renaissance to a potential 35 million fantasy football players and other NFL fans out there.
It’s an experiment that might or might not work (that’s what an “experiment” is), but as we say in the game, it has a “high upside” with, really, no risk, because this is what I would be doing in a tiny ten-team fantasy football league this autumn anyway even if we didn’t make it public.
None of this means I’m going to disappear as a journalist, political reporter and analyst of social movements, strategies and tactics. All that will still be going on here, just as it did during the 2010 football season. And we’ll also be announcing soon the dates and application process for the 2012 School of Authentic Journalism and, additionally, a three-day workshop in the New York City area this October, a kind of “mini-j-school” for journalists and communicators that report on civil resistance and community organizing. Stay tuned for all of that.
But meanwhile, I know that many of you, like me, are really, really ready for some football. See you over at The Authentic League, which we’ll update y’all here at The Field from time to time on the part that interests you; how this experiment might make possible even more reporting and authentic journalism on these pages about the struggles and conflicts that you come here to read about. Prepare for the kick-off!