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COMMENTARY : NFL Players Union Wagers on the Future--and Stands to Lose

November 09, 1989|MANNY TOPOL | NEWSDAY

By abandoning its bargaining rights, the NFL Players Assn. is taking the ultimate gamble in its long fight to achieve total free agency for all National Football League players.

Because the courts have almost wiped out the union's antitrust suit against the NFL by ruling that the current system of limited free agency is a labor issue--and therefore not subject to antitrust--the union has decided to do away with the labor shield by decertifying. The union is hoping to accomplish what it couldn't get at the bargaining table--free agency for all NFL players, allowing them to negotiate their own deals with NFL owners.

But labor lawyers and some players say the move to decertify is an awful gamble.

Minnesota Vikings linebacker Scott Studwell, who has been through both NFL strikes, told ABC Radio, "I think it's ludicrous to think individuals will be able to bargain a position with management as opposed to a solid foundation of players or a union or whatever you want to call it."

The union's assistant executive director, Doug Allen, said he believes the players would not lose the benefits that were granted through previous negotiations.

But labor lawyers and the NFL Management Council say most of the benefits--excluding current pension money--could be lost. Included would be everything from injury protection, insurance, minimum salaries, grievance procedures, squad sizes, family and moving expenses, and even days off. NFL owners also could decide to cut off future pension benefits.

New York Giants General Manager George Young said the players should seek other options. "We've got a chicken in every pot," he said, "and sometimes two or three. Why are we building barricades instead of exploring other options?"

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