Questions About the Pending NFL Lockout? Bring Them — and Other Football Questions — to NFL Players’ Union Executive George Atallah

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George Atallah is the assistant executive director of external affairs for the N.F.L. Players Association, which means that he and his boss, DeMaurice Smith, are the top representatives for perhaps the most prominent labor union in history: NFL players.

If you care even a little bit about the NFL — and this week, many people do — you know that there’s a potential lockout looming on March 4, when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and the players expires.

There are many issues behind the standoff between league and union, most of them economic (revenue share, guaranteed payments, etc.) but also psychic — i.e., this standoff has more the feel of a classic labor war than the typical pro-sport standoff, in part because of the tone with which Smith and Atallah have made their case to the public. Here, for instance, is Atallah writing at ESPN.com:

According to the NFL and team owners, however, the “economic model in the NFL doesn’t work.” What’s more, they have prepared for and are openly threatening a lockout if it’s not “fixed.” What is their proposal to fix it? They’ve asked the players for more than a $1 billion reduction in the players’ portion of revenues in the first year alone of a future CBA. By the way, in a league with no guaranteed contracts, revealed dangers of the game and injury concerns at their peak, they want players to play two extra regular-season games.

The players maintain that one fundamental question needs to be answered in earnest if there is to be an agreement before a lockout: Why is the current deal so bad? If owners had decided to make this a direct business transaction between partners, the players are confident a deal would’ve been struck a long time ago. Business partners get together, sign confidentiality agreements, exchange financials and negotiate. Our repeated requests for detailed financial information that would help us answer the quintessential question have been denied.

As a result, players and fans have to go by what we do know. I recently sent a letter to all sports editors to set the record straight on the economics and revenue breakdown between players and owners because the phrase most frequently seen is that “players get 60 percent of revenues.” This is not an accurate depiction. Players receive approximately 50 percent of all revenues in the NFL. Or, players receive approximately 60 percent of total revenue in the NFL after the owners take a number of expense credits that add up to more than $1 billion a year.

So here’s your chance to ask questions directly to Atallah. Please leave them in the comments section below. He did a Q&A on this blog last year as well, but I’m guessing that with a potential lockout around the corner, your questions will be of a different intensity. As always, we’ll post his answers in short course. We are trying to line up someone prominent from the league side to take a Q&A next week, so we’ll post that as well if it works out.

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  1. VB in NV says:

    Will the players ask for extended health benefits?

    http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/01/mcgrath-football.html

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  2. Phil says:

    It’s my understanding that the replacement players in ’87 worked out well for the owners because in a face-masked league, the fans didn’t care who’s playing as long as the games are played. With the explosion and popularity of today’s 24-hour sports news, twitter and fantasy football, more players have become more recognizable (though still a significantly smaller percentage than NBA and MLB). Nevertheless, do you think this gives players some leverage that was demonstrated to be non-existent after 1987?

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  3. Schantz says:

    There has been a lot of talk about a salary structuring for rookies. Why would the NFL or the NFLPA even hesitate on limiting the amount of money rookies can make? It seems beneficial to both sides (more money for proven players and no risk of getting stuck with a JaMarcus Russell). Am I missing a representative for future players?

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  4. Mike says:

    How about really answering my question from last time?
    I’m not aware of any great examples of sportsmanship.

    From last time:

    I remember numerous charitable efforts from pro sports leagues and player’s unions that are well publicized on TV. I can think of physical fitness, education (e.g. reading), and welfare (e.g. food donations) as areas where most of these efforts concentrate. And the United Way is in many of these areas.

    I would like to see more efforts go into promoting sportsmanship. Any ideas on what small steps could be taken? – Mike
    A.

    Across the board NFL players are a great example of sportsmanship. There is always more we can do and I will look into those organizations to promote it further.

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  5. Andrew Ward says:

    The owners seem to be fine with a lockout next season if they don’t get their conditions. If this is true, what leverage (if any) do the players have to force a collective bargaining agreement? What are the owner’s incentives?

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  6. Michael Radosevich says:

    Have the players made plans to start “a league of their own”? No one pays $150 per game to see Jerry Joan or Danny Snide. No one watches TV to see those two men.

    The players hold the power. Why not combine with the cities to field teams, using city-owned vacant stadiums like RFK in Washington and the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville? Who owns the Rose Bowl? I’m sure you could pack 100,000 fans in there every week. Why not two teams or even four teams in LA the first year? For TV, use Univision or some other major network outside the current TV oligopoly.

    If the players haven’t made plans or are too weak to break free of the system of serfdom they currently have, it’s their own fault. This should be a golden opportunity for the players to control their fate.

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  7. Aaron says:

    1) Do you agree with the premise that the non-guaranteed contracts and hard salary cap strongly contribute to making the NFL the most competitively balanced professional sports league?

    2) If so, what is your philosophy in representing the players while maintaining the parity that makes the NFL so popular? Would you focus more on signing bonuses and less on game checks or vice versa? Less guaranteed money to the top ten draft picks and more guaranteed money to veterans? What do you seek for players whose average career is three years? Two year guaranteed contracts and the remainder non-guaranteed?

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  8. Zach says:

    Since the Packers are publicly owned, and their finances a matter of public record, has the NFLPA been able to make use of that data to counter any questionable accounting practices by the League/Ownership?

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