The key to labor peace in sports resides with the owners, the NFL Players Association longtime general counsel said Tuesday evening.
A “lack of revenue sharing” likely is the reason there was a lockout in the NFL and why there’s currently one in place for NBA, Richard Berthelsen told about three dozen people at a Penn State Dickinson School of Law event in University Park, Pa., where he was the featured speaker.
He said every team should have relatively equal resources, estimating that there is a 2.5 to 1 ratio in revenue for the largest-market teams to smallest-market clubs in the NFL. By improving revenue sharing, the more cash-strapped teams can better compete and be on sounder financial footing.
This would be a better solution than cutting the salaries of the players he represents, Berthelsen said. The NFL owners likely have a different opinion.
The issue of antitrust laws was brought up by professor of law Steve Ross, who moderated the event. Berthelsen said these laws allowed for great gains to be made in terms of player rights and benefits. The discussion in this topic moved into union decertification, which the NFLPA did during its labor battle with the NFL this spring.
Doug Allen, another panelist and visiting professor in the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said a union doesn’t go away but becomes an advocacy organization when it decertifies. Berthelsen added that the move does allow for players to take more aggressive court action against the owners, but there are some risks to players, too.
Players lose union assistance with their grievances and may not have a seat at the table when it comes to pension meetings and about disability funds, Berthelsen said.
He also used this opportunity to attack the notion that the NFLPA isn’t maybe as aggressive in getting protections for its players compared to other unions.
“When you bargain, you prioritize,” he said.
Berthelsen said in systematically chipping away at a power structure in existence long before the NFLPA, there have been notable victories for players in terms of pensions, salaries and health insurance.
Allen, a former NFLPA deputy director as well, took issue with the perception that the union doesn’t do enough to get players guaranteed contracts. He said in most collective bargaining agreements for sports don’t provide for guaranteed contracts. Instead the guarantees are between the teams and the individual players.