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 Reason.tv 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.

Reason.tv's "To Surly with Love: Are teachers overpaid?" featuring international singing sensation Lulu: