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NFL STRIKE : RAIDERS : Wilson Walks In; Majority Stays Out

September 23, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

On its maiden voyage Tuesday, the Raider players' picket line around their El Segundo base sprang a $1-million leak named Marc Wilson.

Wilson, who has the team's only guaranteed contract, said he feared being sued for breach of contract if he struck, came in on the advice of his lawyer, Howard Slusher, and doesn't intend to play in any games involving non-union players.

"I have an unequivocal guarantee from the Raiders," Wilson said. "And in return, I have given them an unequivocal guarantee I'd be willing to play.

"I hope the players understand and the public doesn't misconstrue this to mean, 'You're turning your back on the union and you're siding with management.' I hope I've made that clear."

Officially, the union understands.

"I believe this is an isolated incident," said Raider player representative Sean Jones. "This should not be seen, I repeat, should not be seen as Marc Wilson crossing the picket line.

"Marc had to take a stand from a business standpoint, or it would have been seen as a breach of contract."

That, however, is arguable. None of the NFL players with guaranteed contracts who struck in 1982 were sued. Several with guaranteed contracts, such as John Elway and Neil Lomax, are striking now. Baseball players, most of whom have guaranteed contracts, have struck without having been sued.

"I haven't reviewed Marc Wilson's contract and I don't want to comment on his individual situation," said Doug Allen, assistant director of the National Football League Players Assn., after addressing a Raider players' meeting.

"But as a general principle of labor law, you cannot make a guarantee of a contract contingent on a player's refusal to strike. That's illegal. It is a retribution by management toward someone who exercised his legal right to go on strike."

Wilson says there is no specific language about a strike in his contract.

"The specific language says, if I am ready and willing to play, the Raiders are obligated under the terms of the contract," he said. "I am here and ready and willing to play. I feel I've upheld my end of the contract."

Since there are only a few guaranteed contracts in the NFL--one agent's estimate is a total of 12--there is no standard guarantee clause and each agent writes his own.

However, Lomax's attorney, Leigh Steinberg, says the language in Lomax's guarantee, "is basically similar to what you're talking about on Wilson's contract."

Does Steinberg believe that Lomax is risking a breach by striking?

"No," Steinberg said.

Slusher couldn't be reached for comment.

Unofficially, reaction among Wilson's teammates was mixed.

"He did?" said one player, shaking his head when told Wilson had crossed. "Geez . . .

"If I had a guaranteed contract, I'd feel good about striking," he said, laughing.

Said another player: "Marc has made some comments (saying he won't play in the non-union games) so we're waiting. At this point, no, we're not angry."

Said former Raider Mike Davis, who is on the union's executive committee and picketed with his old teammates:

"The same rule applies for everyone. You cross the line, you cross the line. The players are upset about it and rightly so."

Wilson said he still backs the union's shopping list, especially the No. 1 item, free agency, which he has reason to value.

"I'm a living example free agency, if given a chance, can work," he said. "Last night, (Management Council head Jack) Donlan said at halftime that four years ago players in the NFL were averaging $90,000 and now they're making $235,000, which kind of implies management is taking credit for the salaries and what a great deal we have.

"Nobody mentioned the fact it came about because the USFL created a free market and players started approximating their worth, started getting what, on a free market, they would get. Now the USFL is no longer around and the players have to decide if free agency is something they want to go for, and I'm very supportive of it."

Wilson believes he can refuse to play in non-union games, that his contract obligates the Raiders to provide "NFL-caliber players" to play with him to ensure his safety, as surely as the team must provide a helmet, pads and knee braces, to ensure his safety.

The Raiders are aware of this position. They haven't said whether they'll honor it.

"I don't know yet," Coach Tom Flores said. "I really don't know. I think I'm going to hold on that."

Raider notes

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