Since their labor contract negotiations began in April, National Football League owners and players have haggled over weighty issues such as unfettered free agency and random drug testing-and some far simpler questions as well. Such as: What should be the maximum allowable fine for a player who decides to, say, bring his spit cup into the training room?
"Spit Cups in Training Room" is one of 79 offenses that has been listed in recent years on the New York Jets' disciplinary schedule. The fine for that offense is $100-a bargain compared to the Jets' assessments for being bare-chested at a team meal ($200), swimming in the hotel pool before a game ($500) or engaging in "horseplay" in the training camp dormitory (up to four weeks' pay).
Childish, these fines? Not to NFL head coaches, who believe that a day without discipline is like a day without wind sprints. "We're all children to a degree, not just the players, but the coaches as well," Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Ray Perkins observed the other day. "Without the fines, I think you'd be asking for a lot of trouble."
For as long as players have been answering to the shrill call of their coaches' whistles, fines have been a fact of life in the NFL. Players may not like them, but they tolerate them, even expect them. "Personally, I think fines are offensive," NFL Players Association general counsel Dick Berthelsen said in a recent interview. "But with some of these fines, players just kind of shake their heads and laugh. Their attitude is, 'Isn't that absurd?' "
The laughter may stop if NFL owners get their way in their negotiations with players over a new collective bargaining agreement. The owners' Management Council has proposed that maximum fines for most offenses be tripled -- and that new fines be established for ticket scalping and failure to follow a rehabilitative program prescribed by a club physician or trainer.
The NFLPA has rejected these proposals and most others put forth by the Management Council, and a strike date has been set for Tuesday. "Our position on the fines is that players already are being fined too much," Berthelsen said.
Under the contract that expired Aug. 31, clubs were allowed to fine a player up to $100 for offenses such as being late for practice, losing club-provided equipment and throwing a football into the stands, up to $500 for losing a playbook or missing a practice, and up to $1,000 a day for being absent from a preseason practice.
Coaches also could suspend a player without pay for up to four weeks for "conduct detrimental" to their clubs. Since this conduct was not defined, coaches could impose fines for almost any imaginable offense. "The craziest one I ever heard of was when Dan Devine was coaching the Green Bay Packers (during the early '70s)," Berthelsen recalled. "The team was flying home after a loss, and Devine announced on the P.A. system that he was fining a player for his 'loosey-goosey attitude' on the team plane."
Although some clubs, such as the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears, tailor their disciplinary schedules to the specifications of the collective bargaining agreement, others, such as the Jets, New York Giants and Washington Redskins, list offenses that reflect the concerns of their head coaches.
Just what are some of these offenses? They range from smoking a cigar in the locker room to carrying a deadly weapon to -- well, here is a sampling of offenses that have appeared over the last two years on NFL club disciplinary schedules:
--Looking like a slob. From the Jets' fine list, under the heading "Travel-Dress on Road Trips": "Sport Jacket and Dress Slacks and Dress Shoes or Suit. No Blue Jeans, Warm-up outfits, Members Only Jackets or Leather Jackets. No Tennis or Running Shoes. THIS INCLUDES TO AND FROM TRIPS!" Fine: $250.
--Using one's helmet as an easy chair. The Seattle Seahawks advise players that "sitting on helmet during practice or game" is a no-no. Fine: $50.
--Playing Mr. Big Shot. Lest any player think he can park his Mercedes anywhere he sees fit, the St. Louis Cardinals offer this warning: "Parking in front of Busch Stadium interferes with the Cardinals' day-to-day business and interferes with convenience and access of ticket buyers." Fine: $250.
--Entertaining the opposite sex. From the Redskins' fine list: "While at training camp, women are not permitted in the player's quarters. While traveling with the team on the road, women are not permitted in hotel-motel room." Fine: $500.
--Risking one's life (and limbs). The Giants inform players that "use of a motorcycle, as driver or rider" is forbidden "from the start of training camp until the last regular season or postseason game." Fine: up to four weeks' pay.