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National Football League Players Association

The National Football League Players Association, or NFLPA, is the labor organization for the professional football players in the National Football League (NFL). The responsibility of the organization is to represent the players in matters concerning wages, hours, and working conditions, to protect their rights as professional athletes, and to ensure the terms of a collective bargaining agreement are enforced. Additionally, the organization negotiates and monitors retirement and insurance benefits and aims to enhance and defend the image of players and their profession. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., the NFLPA is led by its president Domonique Foxworth and executive director DeMaurice Smith.

Founded in 1956, the NFLPA was not recognized as the bargaining agent for the players by the NFL until 1968 when a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was reached. After an adverse court decision in 1989, the union renounced its collective bargaining rights, converting into a professional association in order to pursue antitrust litigation designed to win free agency for its members. From 1989 to 1993, a series of lawsuits were filed by the NFLPA against the NFL, most notably one involving Freeman McNeil of the New York Jets and the other involving Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles. These lawsuits caused negotiations for an antitrust settlement, and that settlement paved the way for the NFLPA to reconstitute as a union and to negotiate a new CBA in the spring of 1993.

Following the end of the 2008 season, the NFL team owners opted out of the extended 1993 CBA, which caused the agreement to expire at the end of an uncapped 2010 season. The NFLPA again renounced its collective bargaining rights on March 11, 2011, the date the agreement expired, to allow the players to pursue antitrust litigation. The NFL and the players came to terms on a new antitrust settlement on July 25, 2011, and a new CBA was then negotiated and subsequently ratified on August 4, 2011.


Early history


The players originally began to unionize because they had to play exhibition games without receiving pay.[1][2] In 1943, Roy Zimmerman's refusal to play an exhibition game without compensation resulted in his trade from the Washington Redskins to the Philadelphia Eagles.[3] With the formation of the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) in 1946, NFL owners instituted a rule which banned a player for five years from NFL-associated employment if he left the league to join the AAFC.[4] This did not stop all players from switching leagues. For example, Bill Radovich played for the Detroit Lions in 1945 and then left the NFL to play for the Los Angeles Dons in the AAFC after the team offered to increase his salary.[4] Subsequently, Radovich was blacklisted by the NFL and was unable to gain an employment opportunity with the San Francisco Seals baseball team of the Pacific Coast League. Unable to attain a job in either leagues, Radovich filed a lawsuit against the NFL.[4] The actual formation of the NFLPA came when two players from the Cleveland Browns, Abe Gibron and Dante Lavelli, approached a lawyer, Creighton Miller, to help form an association to advocate for the players. They were eventually supported by 11 of the 12 teams that were in the league at the time, and they announced the formation of the NFLPA in 1956.[5][6] The new association initially requested that the clubs provide players with pay for exhibition games, a minimum league-wide salary and per diem pay, uniforms and equipment paid for and maintained at the clubs' expense, and continued payment of their salaries when they were injured and unable to perform.[7] Don Shula of the Baltimore Colts, John Gordy of the Detroit Lions, Frank Gifford and Sam Huff of the New York Giants, and Norm Van Brocklin of the Los Angeles Rams led this effort.[7][8]


Creighton Miller, who was a former Notre Dame football player turned lawyer continued to represent the NFLPA in their early efforts.[9] Unable to win the owners' attention by organizing, the association threatened to bring an antitrust lawsuit against the league. That threat became much more credible when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Radovich v. National Football League, , that the NFL did not enjoy the same antitrust immunity that Major League Baseball did.[6] Jarett Bell of USA Today notes, the Radovich v. National Football League ruling "set the foundation for a series of court battles that have continued to present times."[6] Rather than face another lawsuit, the owners agreed to a league minimum salary of $5,000, $50 for each exhibition game played, and medical and hospital coverage.[7] Although most of the NFLPA's requests were met, the owners did not enter into a collective bargaining agreement with it or formally recognize it as their exclusive bargaining representative, and instead agreed to change the standard player contract and alter governing documents to reflect the changes.[10]

From its inception, the members of the NFLPA were divided over whether it should act as a professional association or a union. Against the wishes of NFLPA president Pete Retzlaff and later Bernie Parrish, Miller refused to engage in collective bargaining, and instead ran the union as a "'grievance committee'".[10] The players continued to use the threat of antitrust litigation over the next few years as a lever to gain better benefits, including a pension plan and health insurance.[7] In the 1960s the NFL also faced competition from the new American Football League.[11] NFL players viewed the new league as potential leverage for them to improve their contracts however, this was a misconception as the NFL could play the associations against each other in negotiations. In partial response to this misguided threat, the NFL changed the owner-controlled pension plan to add a clause saying that a player would lose his pension if he went to another league.[7] On January 14, 1964, the American Football League formed the AFL Players Association, and elected Tom Addison of the Boston Patriots as president.[12] Rather than working with the AFLPA, the NFLPA chose to retain its independence and attempted to block the merger between the two leagues in 1966 however meager funding prevented them from mounting a formal opposition. With the merger completed, the leverage that the AFL once provided was no longer accessible.[7]

In January 1968, Parrish, upset with the weak constitution of the NFLPA, proposed forming a players' union with the assistance of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.[7] The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (led by St. Louis Teamster leader Harold Gibbons and Hoffa top aide Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien) pushed the NFLPA into joining the trucking union.[13] In early November 1967, Parrish, with support from former Cleveland Browns player Jim Brown, began distributing union cards to form a Teamsters affiliate known as the American Federation of Pro Athletes.[14] The NFLPA rejected the overture at its meeting in Hollywood, Florida during the first week of January 1968 and declared itself an unaffiliated union.[15] Although Parrish's proposal was defeated, Miller left the union as counsel. Sources speculated that Miller quit,[16] while others say he was forced out because he was not hawkish enough.[17] He was later replaced by two labor lawyers from Chicago, Dan Schulman and Bernie Baum.[7]

Recognition and certification (1968 1983)

Despite the union's success in reaching a CBA, 6 months after it declared itself an unaffiliated union, many players were dissatisfied with the lack of benefits they received. After official discussions with the owners stalled, on July 3, 1968, the NFLPA voted to strike, and the owners countered by declaring a lockout.[18] By July 14, 1968, the brief work stoppage came to an end.[19] Although a collective bargaining agreement resulted, many players felt that the agreement did not get them as many benefits as they had hoped, leaving them dissatisfied.[7] The owners agreed to contribute about $1.5 million to the pension fund but maintained minimum salaries of $9,000 for rookies, $10,000 for veterans and $50 per exhibition game, and there was at yet no neutral arbitration.[7]

As the merger of the AFL and NFL became effective in 1970, the unions agreed to meet for the first time in January 1970.[7] The NFL players wanted Ed Meador to become president of the newly combined association while the AFL players wanted Jack Kemp. Both sides compromised and agreed to recognize John Mackey of the Baltimore Colts as president on the condition that former AFL player Alan Miller would become general counsel for the organization.[7] Though the NFL owners were open to recognizing the union, their representatives requested lawyers not be present during negotiations, something the players were unwilling to consent to. This prompted the players to petition the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for union certification.[7]

The players went on strike in July 1970 after the owners locked them out for a brief period. The strike lasted for two days ending with a new four year agreement which was reached after the owners threatened to cancel the season.[7] As a result of the new CBA, the union won the right for players to bargain through their own agents with the clubs, and minimum salaries were increased to $12,500 for rookies and $13,000 for veterans. Also, players' pensions were improved and dental care was added to the players' insurance plans. Players also gained the right to select representation on the Retirement Board and the right to impartial arbitration for injury grievances.[7]

Following the 1970 agreement, many union representatives were released by their teams. Unfazed, the players were determined to create a stronger union through better communication.[7] Attorney Ed Garvey was hired by the NFLPA in 1971 to act as their first executive director, and the NFLPA became officially certified as a union by the NLRB in 1971. Headquarters were established in Washington, D.C. and a campaign was launched to help inform players of their rights.[7]

1974 strike

Even before the 1974 strike, the NFLPA challenged the so-called "Rozelle Rule", as a violation of federal antitrust laws in a lawsuit filed by President John Mackey and allied union leaders in 1971.[20] The rule, named after commissioner Pete Rozelle, allowed the commissioner to award compensation, which included players, to a team losing a free agent. This rule limited player movement, as few teams were willing to sign a high-profile free agent only to risk having their rosters raided.[21] With the 1970 CBA agreement set to expire, the players went on strike on July 1, 1974. In addition to the aforementioned "Rozelle Rule", the players demanded the elimination of the option clause, impartial arbitration of disputes, elimination of the draft and waiver system and individual contracts to protect players and guarantee their salaries.[7] The strike lasted until August 10, 1974 when the players returned to training camp without a new CBA, instead choosing to pursue free agency in court through the Mackey case.[20] (For reasons unknown, the 1974 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game was allowed to be played, despite occurring during the strike on July 27.)

While litigation (Mackey v. NFL, 543 F.2d 606 (8th Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 801) proved successful in 1977, the union found that making progress in bargaining was harder to achieve.[6] Although it abolished the Rozelle Rule and obtained improved benefits, the change did not achieve true free agency.[6] The NFL and NFLPA agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement in March 1977 that ran until 1982.[20]

1982 strike

The 1982 NFL strike began on September 21, 1982, and lasted 57 days until November 16, 1982.[20][22] During this time, no NFL games were played. The strike occurred because the union demanded that a wage scale based on percentage of gross revenues be implemented. The NFLPA wanted the percentage to be 55 percent, and according to the Los Angeles Times, this demand "dominated the negotiations".[23]

The 1982 strike ended with a player revolt against its own union, as some members suggested that Ed Garvey step down as executive director.[24] As a result of the strike, the season schedule was reduced from 16 games to nine and the playoffs expanded to 16 teams (eight from each conference) for a "Super Bowl tournament." A new five-year agreement was also put in place, providing severance packages to players upon retirement, an increase in salaries and post-season pay, and bonuses based on the number of years of experience in the league.[25] Still, NFL salaries remained significantly less than those of other professional league sports.[25]

NFLPA All-Star Games

During the strike, the NFLPA promoted two "AFC-NFC 'all-star' games."[26] One was held at RFK Stadium on October 17, 1982, and the second was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum a day later.[26] One of the few stars who did play, future Hall of Fame running back John Riggins, explained "I guess I'll do just about anything for money."[26] Despite a local TV blackout and ticket prices starting at six dollars, neither game drew well; only 8,760 fans attended in Washington, D.C., and just 5,331 attended in Los Angeles.[26]

Gene Upshaw era (1983 2008)

In 1983, former Oakland Raider Gene Upshaw became the Executive Director of the NFLPA.[27] During his time as Executive Director, he oversaw the 1987 strike, several antitrust lawsuits, and the collective bargaining agreement of 1993.

1987 strike and decertification

The NFLPA struck for a month in 1987 upon the expiration of the 1982 CBA due to the players' qualms regarding the restictiveness of the league's free agent practices.[28] On this occasion, however, they only succeeded in canceling one week of the season. For the next three weeks, the NFL staged games with hastily assembled replacement teams.[20][29] They were made up of players cut during training camp, as well as a few veterans who crossed the picket lines.[20] Among the most prominent players to immediately cross the line were New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau and Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Randy White.[29] San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent.[29]

Faced with the failure in achieving their demands and the willingness of the networks to broadcast the replacement games, despite a 20% drop in ratings, the union voted to go back to work on October 15, 1987 without a collective bargaining agreement.[30] They were forced to wait another week before they could resume play since they had failed to return by the owners' deadline, a deadline later ruled to be in violation of federal labor laws leaving the owners to provide back pay for the games missed.[31] The union filed a new antitrust suit, and on December 30, the NFLPA asked federal judge David Doty to rule that the league s exemption from the federal antitrust laws had ended and that players were free to challenge free agency restrictions and seek damages under those laws.[20]

On November 1, 1989, the Court of Appeals rejected the suit on the grounds that the labor exemption from antitrust liability protected the employers, even though the union was no longer party to a collective bargaining agreement that would have permitted the practices that the union was challenging.[20] In response, the union formally disclaimed any interest in representing NFL players in collective bargaining and reformed itself as a professional organization in November 1989. Having done that, individual players, led by Freeman McNeil of the New York Jets, brought a new antitrust action, financed by the NFLPA, against the NFL challenging its free agency restrictions (so-called "Plan B") as an unlawful restraint of trade under the antitrust laws.[20][32]

1993 collective bargaining

The players ultimately prevailed after a jury trial on their claims. That verdict, the pendency of other antitrust cases and the threat of a class action filed by Reggie White, then with the Philadelphia Eagles, on behalf of all NFL players caused the parties to settle the anti-trust cases and to agree on a formula that permitted free agency.[20] In return, the owners received a salary cap, albeit one tied to a formula based on the players' share of total league revenues. The agreement also established a salary floor minimum payrolls all teams were obliged to pay.[33] The settlement was presented to and approved by the judge who had heard the McNeil antitrust case in 1993. Once the agreement was approved, the NFLPA reconstituted itself as a labor union and entered into a new collective bargaining agreement with the league. The NFLPA and the league extended the 1993 agreement five times. The final extension came in March 2006 when it was extended through the 2010 season after the NFL owners voted 30-2 to accept the NFLPA's final proposal.[20]

DeMaurice Smith era (2009 present)

Following the death of Gene Upshaw in 2008, Richard Berthelsen was named interim Executive Director, serving from August 2008 until March 2009.[34] The NFLPA Board of Representatives elected DeMaurice Smith for a three year term as the Executive Director on March 16, 2009.[35] Smith's contract was renewed for an additional three years in March 2012.[36] During Smith's tenure, the issue that dominated discussion was the 2011 lockout.[37]

2011 lockout

In May 2008 the owners decided to opt out of the 1993 arrangement and play the 2010 season without an agreement in place.[38] Some of the major points of contention included openness of owners' financial books, the rookie pay scale, a proposed 18 percent reduction in the players' share of revenues, forfeiture of bonus payments for players that failed to perform, players' health and retirement benefits, details of free agency, the cost and benefit of new stadiums, players' salaries, extending the regular season to 18 games, and the revenue-sharing structure.[38] By March 2011, the NFLPA and the NFL had not yet come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement, thus failing to resolve the labor dispute. Accordingly, the NFLPA filed papers to decertify as a union on March 11, 2011 and filed an antitrust suit to enjoin the lockout.[39] Less than two hours after the players' union decertified, quarterbacks Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees filed a class-action lawsuit, financed by the NFLPA, to prevent the lockout from impeding on the season.[39] By the end of the day, the players had officially been locked out. After the settlement of Brady et al. v. NFL anti-trust suit on July 25, 2011, a majority of players signed union authorization cards approving the NFL Players Association to act as their exclusive collective bargaining representative.[40] The NFL officially recognized the NFLPA s status as the players collective bargaining representative on July 30, 2011.[41] The NFL and NFLPA proceeded to negotiate terms for a new collective bargaining agreement, and the agreement became effective after ratification by the players August 4, 2011.[42] Under the new agreement, which runs through 2021, revenue sharing, the most contentious issue during the lockout, was re-designed so that the players must average at least 47 percent of all revenue for the term of the agreement. Additionally, a limit was placed on the amount of money given to rookies. First round picks receive four-year deals, with a fifth year option. In the second through seventh rounds, there are slotted four-year deals. The league minimum salary for players increased by 10 12 percent, based on tenure, players with four accrued seasons could become unrestricted free agents, offseason programs were reduced by five weeks and practice times and the amount of contact during those practices were limited, $50 million would be set aside annually for medical research and approximately $1 billion would be set aside for retired player benefits over the life of the agreement.[43][44][45]


After the emergence of information pertaining to what would later be dubbed as Bountygate, where New Orleans Saints players were allegedly paid bonuses for hits that injured opposing players, the NFLPA, on behalf of Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, three players suspended as a result of an investigation by the NFL, filed a lawsuit against the league. The lawsuit claimed NFL commissioner Roger Goodell "had violated the league's labor agreement by showing he had pre-determined the guilt of the players punished in the bounty probe before serving as the arbitrator for their June 18 appeal hearing".[46]


The current president of the NFLPA is Domonique Foxworth and the executive director is DeMaurice Smith. As of 2012, the executive committee consisted of the following current and retired NFL players: Charlie Batch, Drew Brees, Brian Dawkins, Scott Fujita, Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Light, Brandon Moore, Jeff Saturday, Brian Waters, and Benjamin Watson.[47] Each NFL team also has a player representative, along with two to three alternate representatives.[48]

Leader Year(s)
Executive Directors
John Gordy January 16, 1969 November 1, 1969[8]
None November 1, 1969 1971
Ed Garvey 1971 1983[49]
Gene Upshaw June 13, 1983 August 21, 2008[27]
Richard Berthelsen August 21, 2008 March 16, 2009 as Interim Executive Director[34]
DeMaurice Smith March 16, 2009 present[35]
NFLPA (pre-merger)
Bill Howton January 26, 1958 January 4, 1962[50]
Pete Retzlaff January 4, 1962 January 5, 1964[51]
Ordell Braase January 5, 1964 January 8, 1967[52]
Mike Pyle January 8, 1967 January 11, 1968[53]
John Gordy January 11, 1968 January 16, 1969[8]
John Mackey January 16, 1969 1970[7]
Tom Addison January 14, 1964 1965[12]
Jack Kemp 1965 1970[54]
NFLPA (post-merger)
John Mackey 1970 1973[55][56]
Bill Curry 1973 May 31, 1975[56][57]
Kermit Alexander May 31, 1975 March 8, 1976[57]
Dick Anderson March 8, 1976 January 26, 1978[58]
Len Hauss January 26, 1978 1980[59]
Gene Upshaw 1980 June 13, 1983[27]
Jeff Van Note June 13, 1983 February 1984[60]
Tom Condon February, 1984 April 24, 1986[60]
Marvin Powell April 24, 1986 March 4, 1988[61]
George Martin March 4, 1988 June 13, 1989[62]
Mike Kenn June 13, 1989 March 16, 1996[63]
Trace Armstrong March 16, 1996 March 29, 2004[64]
Troy Vincent March 29, 2004 March 19, 2008[63]
Kevin Mawae March 19, 2008 March 25, 2012[65]
Domonique Foxworth March 25, 2012 present[66]

See also



Further reading

External links

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