Inside the NFLPA

Bobby McGrane

On May 11, 2015, the NFL announced its decision to suspend superstar quarterback Tom Brady for 4 games without pay.  This suspension came a few months after the 2015 AFC Championship game, which Brady’s Patriots won 45-7.  The controversy that followed the game is what has become “Deflategate”.  

Three days after the suspension was announced, the NFL Players Association came to Brady’s aid and filed an appeal to the suspension. While they ended up losing the appeal, it opened more doors for the NFLPA.  Eventually, they were able to get the case onto the desk of Judge Richard M. Berman, who decided to overturn the suspension on September 3.  Through his first 3 games of the 2015 season, Brady has a 72.2 completion percentage, 1,112 yards and 9 touchdowns.

The difference between these monster numbers and zeros across the board for Brady was the NFL Players Association.  In the words of legendary middle school social studies teacher Don DiPaulo, “You should give up on your dreams of being professional athletes, because, first of all, it’s next to impossible. Second of all, professional athletes are completely taken advantage of and have almost no power.”  You might think that DiPaulo is way off here, due to the incredible salaries that sports superstars collect.  However, looking back at the history of sports, one can find that sports owners and executives have been known to treat players unfairly.  The NFLPA’s purpose is to make sure that DiPaulo is wrong.  The NFLPA directs labor negotiations, protects players’ rights, oversees insurance and retirement benefits, and promotes the image of players. They represent all NFL players during contract negotiations (the 2011 lockout, for example), defending the players’ salaries, benefits and rights.    

And don’t be fooled by the lavish lifestyles of NFL superstars.  NFL players need all the money, benefits and rights they can get.  For although it is the ultimate dream job of kids all across America, a career in the NFL is brutal.  Football players are, in essence, being paid to attack and be attacked by other enormous athletes.  All of this harsh physical contact can certainly take a toll, and it does.  A recent study by the Concussion Legacy Foundation examined the brains of 91 deceased NFL players. 87 of the brains studied tested positive for a brain disease called CTE, a staggering 96%.  CTE is believed to result directly from concussions and head trauma.  Brain disease isn’t the only thing that troubles former NFL players.  Injuries have lasting effects on players.  Emotional trauma, family issues, and financial collapses are all very common among retired football players.  And the average NFL career is only 3.3 years, according to the NFLPA.    All in all, 61% of former NFL players said that adjusting to life after football was a serious challenge. 85% said that they were disappointed in the way the NFL prepared them for this transition.  Clearly, NFL players don’t just deserve a union, they need one.  It is the NFLPA’s job to ensure that NFL players are compensated fairly for their difficult, dangerous and demanding job.  They will also focus on ensuring that players are better prepared for life after football and developing precautions that can be taken to keep players away from injuries and long-lasting brain diseases.