Super Bowl

Why The NFL Labor Dispute is Like Battleground Wisconsin (& Statehouse Stand-Offs Across the Country)


The National Football League lockout dispute between millionaire players and billionaire owners is not the stuff of folk songs and Joe Hill (or even Joey Ramone) sightings. This is not your great-grandfather's Pinkertons vs. Wobblys (go here for the latest in Wobbly lingo) standoff.

Above is a video that diagrams the confusing set of stunts, blocks, and legal routes that are being run by the various actors. It's interesting from many perspectives but from a policy angle, the one thing that matters is that we are all embroiled in the game because of the massive amounts of public subsidies that filter into the NFL (and the NBA, MLB, college contests, and more) because of taxpayer subsidies.

In the NFL fight, the players have decertified their union in order to get a better crack at the cash the owners collect; the owners are fighting back, claiming the union has really just gone into suspended animation (yes, all very confusing), sort of like the Detroit Lions since they traded Bobby Layne. But let's not forget a very basic fact: The only reason this matters to non-sports fans is because they too are on the hook for the billions in taxpayer money that is shelled out to cover stadium construction and maintenance costs and a bazillion other things.

In this current squabble, I support the players in their quest for a bigger slice of total revenue from the game that destroys their bodies. Sure, nobody's putting a gun to their heads (and they tend to shoot themselves in the foot, or at least the leg), but they deserve as much as they can get. But nobody can doubt that one of the major reasons there's so much loot at stake in the first place is only because these franchises get so much public dough funneled to them. Does anyone think that the Washington Redskins—who have won just 45 percent of their games since 1999, the equivalent of F Troop's Hekawi tribe would be worth an estimated $1.6 billion if they had to, you know, actually cover their own stadium costs? Just like in higher education, there's a pro sports bubble, baby, enabled by free and reduced-price money being pumped into the system by every idiot city and state willing to do whatever it takes to keep a franchise around.

As the video above concludes, "Hey ref, let 'em play." Yes! Especially without public dollars.

Which brings me to the fights breaking out all over the place regarding public-sector compensation, collective bargaining, and related topics. I've posted before about how public school teachers are paid far better than their private school counterparts. This is as straight-up comparison as one can imagine between private and public sector and given that K-12 teachers are always and everywhere the single-biggest group of public workers at the state and local levels, it strongly suggests what most studies show to be true: public-sector workers make more in total comp than private-sector drones do. To say otherwise, you need to start talking about how governmet workers have more education (irrelevant unless directly necessary to perfrom the task at hand), are older, or whatever.

Part of this fight is over a conflict of visions: Do you see government primarily as a jobs provider (in which case, you're comfortable goosing pay up and up) or do you see government primarily as a service provider (in which case, you want to see service delivered at the lowest possible cost to the paying customer or taxpayer).

But the only reason we're having a conversation about it at all is because it's public money. When's the last time you heard about a private school strike? Or more important, cared unless your kid went to the school? That's as it should be, I think, whether its' professional sports or education. By minimizing the state, we maximize peace, or at least we allow people to pick and choose their battles.'s "To Surly with Love: Are teachers overpaid?" featuring international singing sensation Lulu:

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  1. Impose a no fly zone and bomb the owners mansions and the players Escalades.

  2. I would not be the least bit sad if the NFL took a temporary (or longer) hiatus. What a shitty (and obscenely lucrative) league.

    1. The NFL is a legal mafia, and like the real Mafia, it’s supported largely by graft and narcotics and gambling. Add a supremely effective propaganda ministry, aided and abetted by fellow gangsters in the network sports monopolies, and you have an operation that would make Vito Corleone proud.

    2. Why the hell do these bozos get any taxpayer money at all? I have never understod how the voters allow cities to build stadiums at taxpayer expense.

      1. Propaganda, tribalism, boosterism (civic collectivism), lies, promises…

      2. Combine the “My dad can whip your dad” mentality with an aberrant kamikaze civic pride and you have your answer. And that extends well beyond the ranks of lunkhead pro football fans.

        1. Yeah. “Civic pride” is just another way of saying collectivism.

        2. Which is what is strange about tying civic pride with the NFL, an organization whose player, coaches and owners would move to another city in a heartbeat if they could make some more money.

          1. Basic social identity theory.

  3. In this current squabble, I support the players in their quest for a bigger slice of total revenue from the game that destroys their bodies. Sure, nobody’s putting a gun to their heads, but they deserve as much as they can get.

    Did Ezra Klein steal Nick’s password? I mean, this could just as easily be applied to, say, prison guard or police unions.

    I never will understand Reason abruptly turning into Daily Worker on sports labor issues

    1. It’s hard for me to decide whose side to be on.

      In the absence of anti-trust law [which I oppose as a libertarian] player compensation in all sports would probably be lower, since ownership would be able to employ things like baseball’s old reserve clause with impunity, and could blackball players or collude on contract offers with impunity.

      On the other hand, the dominance of the major sports leagues in the modern era was built in large part on taxpayer investment in stadia and transportation networks [the Dodgers were playing that game as early as the 50’s]. The TV broadcast network system, itself largely a product of deliberate regulation, also helped to perpetuate the dominance of existing leagues. So I have to ask myself why the owners should collect all that rent and not the players.

      1. Simple solution: hope for a strike that pisses off people enough they get sick of public funding for fucking sports. The owners and players have to suck it up, and people who don’t care about sports don’t have to fund it. It’s lose-lose-win!

    2. I can’t speak for anyone else, but here’s a good reason:

      In pro sports labor disputes, the players union invariably supports freer markets and meritocracy, while the owners invariably support rigid payscales and restricted labor markets.

      The current NFL dispute is no exception.

  4. Oh, and by the way, the majority of NFL players are nothing close to millionaires. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning could live a few comfortable lifetimes without ever playing another game, but random fullback/kickoff coverage guy is gonna be feeling quite the pinch come September if this ain’t resolved.

    1. but random fullback/kickoff coverage guy is gonna be feeling quite the pinch come September if this ain’t resolved.

      So much for union solidarity. More proof of the greed of the A-list players, not unlike the teachers and cops with the most seniority not willing to take a little less so the younger generation can keep their jobs and hopefully develop and excel. Pa-tooey.

      1. Yes, except that the former are paid more because of the value they provide (at least in the eyes of those that hire them), as opposed to “because they were there for a while”.

        1. You are, of course, correct. I was merely exposing the fallacy of the Union Mindset and the protestation of “we’re in this together!” claptrap.

    2. League minimum is what, over 400K? Boo freaking hoo.

      1. Is resentment of people getting rich through hard work now a libertarian principle?

  5. But nobody can doubt that one of the major reasons there’s so much loot at stake in the first place is only because these franchises get so much public dough funneled to them.

    Wait- I thought it was because they love the game.

    1. I thought it was because they love the game.

      The game is an afterthought. In addition to the money, there is this thing called “fame” and the external rewards that brings, such as meals and night club outings comped, preferential treatment socially, and instant street cred with the ladies. These are the internal and incalculable, dare I say, externalities. Rhoethlisberger and Farvre notwithstanding.

      1. I think some of the players do care about the game, especially about being the best at it.

        1. Very few. Being the best is important initially, but will eventually take a backseat to the other concerns and rewards I mentioned. It’s the phenomenon known as “believing one’s own hype.” There are very few with Cal Ripken levels of humility.

          1. I think that there are more than a very few who make committment to excellence their number one priority. Since you mentioned Cal Ripken, I’ll give you another Baltimorian as an example: Ray Lewis.


              1. If only his commitment to excellence in commercials matches his commitment to excellence in football.

            2. Ray Lewis? You mean Baltimore’s OJ Simpson?

            3. Greg Maddux.

  6. It’s also interesting that every football-related cent the owners make is included in the pot for revenue sharing, but none of the endorsement deals and autograph money that the players make is included. If the profit the Bears make from my purchase of an NFC North Champions t-shirt is to be shared by the players, then the profit from Peyton Manning wearing a fake moustache on a Sprint commercial should be shared by the owners.

    1. That’s an interesting idea.

      1. I would love to see the owners offer that up to the union and see how quickly Brees, Brady, and Manning take their names off the lawsuit.

  7. Without government, the NFL would be using Chinese child slaves on their teams!

    1. True, but have you seen those kids’ blocks?

  8. As we near the deadline for the local legislators to screw us over here in MN to provide our owner a new stadium, I keep telling people that we should let them leave.

    With the internet and dish packages, unless you are one of the idiots who actually goes to a game, what is the difference if your TV signal has to travel 2000 miles instead of 20 miles.

    During my last trip to Japan, I was amazed at how easy it was to keep up with the ViQueens. I read the local columnists online and was able to stream the games to my laptop in real time.

    Let LA subsidize them.

    1. I doubt they’re going to leave. The usual candidates for NFL team moves (LA, Las Vegas, Portland) are even more broke than Minnesota.

      1. Las Vegas will never have an NFL team (or probably any other major league sport). As much as sports gambling does to fuel interest in it, the NFL does the “LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU” act whenever gambling is discussed.

    2. Good luck streaming those games now…. the Department of Homeland Security has taken over copyright enforcement and one of the regular hosts of NFL games was shut down recently:

      1. The NFL has their own site for streaming if you are outside the US. (Might be limited based on country, but I bet it’s authorized in Japan.)

  9. football players are independent contractors…not sure why they need a “union” in the first place. and most of them are wife-beaters and rapists and dog-killers anyway…i don’t care if they ever play again.

  10. Major, major props to Nick for the F Troop reference and alt text. That show was funny…

    1. The only fail was not using a picture of Milton Burle with the tiny bow.

  11. Nick, it’s fun to pick on the Redskins, but you did manage to pick one of the few stadiums that was built without public money. It wasn’t completely free of public assistance (the interchange on I-95 was built with state money) but the stadium itself was financed by Jack Kent Cooke.

    You can head up the road to Baltimore if you want a completely publicly funded stadium.

    1. To a “libertarian,” anything that uses public roads is tainted.

  12. To be fair, a lot of the publicly-funded stadiums are used for other purposes besides NFL games — high school games, soccer, concerts, etc.

    1. Rollerblading at the Metrodome!


        1. Totally off-topic, but yesterday on Pawn Stars somebody was selling Truck-a-saurus.

  13. Let LA subsidize them.

    The last thing the NFL wants to see is a team in LA.

    “LA’s gonna steal your team!” is the equivalent of your evil stepmother telling you there’s a monster under your bed who will eat you if you get out.

    1. Dude, posting details of my personal life online is not cool. How did you find out about that anyway?

      Whatever you do, don’t tell them the umbrella bin story.

      1. I’ve never stooped to that level in our arguments. See, anarchy can be polite.

  14. To be fair, a lot of the publicly-funded stadiums are used for other purposes besides NFL games — high school games, soccer, concerts, etc.

    Who gets the revenues? As I recall, the Colts get all that money at the new stadium, while the city is on the hook for maintenance and operating expenses (which they somehow or other failed to provide for in the budget).

    Fuck you, Jimmy Irsay.

    1. Regardless, the stadia remain empty and unused most of the year, especially in northern climates with open-air buildings.

      1. January and February perhaps, but most of the year? No. Soccer games and concerts are held during the spring and summer.

        1. January and February perhaps,

          Then just get a better team.

  15. don’t tell them the umbrella bin story.

    It might not have been so debilitating to you in later life if she had not put you in there head-first.

  16. “Civic pride” is just another way of saying collectivism.

    That, and, “These numbers don’t even come close to adding up, but we want to do it anyway, because WE will benefit at YOUR expense. ‘WOO! It’s YOUR TEAM! Let’s all get behind our city!'”

  17. Would somebody please explain or link to an explanation of what exactly Wisconsin’s law against collective bargaining would prohibit. All I can find is people explaining that the effects are needed, but I want to know whether it is an infrgingement on individual rights or not? Thanks

  18. As a HUGE Lulu fan, I would be remiss if I didn’t include this link:

  19. I’m siding with the owners for several reasons, but one thing especially. The Players have demanded to see the owners books. Fuck that. They don’t want to play in the NFL, the AFL, CFL, and UFL would be happy to have them. They have no right to their employer’s books any more than he has a right to restrict them from endorsement deals with third parties or to go play in a different league. The Players are filing an anti-trust lawsuit when there are 3 other professional football leagues in current operation. And they are claiming the owners have not negotiated in good faith when I believe it is the Players have not negotiated in good faith. Just look at what the owners have taken off the table at the union’s request.

    I’m in favor of no public money for stadiums but that’s a separate issue that has no bearing on the right of the players to demand the owners open their books.

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