Bring Your Questions for N.F.L. Players Union Executive George Atallah


If you follow news about the National Football League — see, for instance, Alan Schwarz‘s game-changing coverage of concussions — then you have recently come across the name George Atallah. He is the assistant executive director of external affairs for the N.F.L. Players Association, and as such has been very visible of late. Atallah was the first hire of DeMaurice Smith, the recently elected head of the N.F.L.P.A., who succeeded the longtime leader Gene Upshaw upon his death.

For years, the common wisdom was that Upshaw was too close to the league and team owners to suit the taste of some current and former players. The implication was that that new leadership in the players union would push for change. Is that happening?

To read the public comments of DeMaurice Smith and George Atallah, you get the sense that the union has indeed taken on more of an activist role than before, from the biggest issues (negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement) to the smaller (introducing its own line of N.F.L. merchandise in lower-end stores like Walgreens and Kroger).

Atallah, 31, was born in Lebanon and moved to New York as a child. Before coming to the N.F.L.P.A., he worked in media strategy and government relations; he also worked as a senior client analyst at Goldman Sachs, after which he became senior development associate for Seeds of Peace. (In order to persuade his parents that leaving Goldman for a non-profit was the right move, he made an elaborate PowerPoint presentation; for the most part, it worked.)

He has agreed to field your questions about the N.F.L., so please leave them in the comments section below. As always, we’ll post his replies in short order. To prime the pump, I sent a few basic questions Atallah’s way; here are his answers:


What are the biggest issues on the N.F.L.P.A.’s agenda over the next 12 months?


Biggest issues include dealing with the health and safety issues of the game and N.F.L. players, negotiating a new C.B.A., and protecting and preparing our membership for a prospective lockout.


Briefly describe the learning experience of stepping into this job from the outside.


The job is not a job to me, but an experience of a lifetime. I believe that not having any experience in the business of football has been beneficial because we have brought some fresh ideas and a fresh approach to this position. The sports universe is great, but we strongly believe that our sport extends beyond this framework and our strategies and tactics are derived from this philosophy. I believe that I am able to bring a little bit of everything to this job from my previous careers. The links that I bring from my media relations firm are obvious to my role, but I also believe that the things I bring from my education (Boston College/ M.B.A. at George Washington University), Goldman Sachs, and Seeds of Peace are very transferable. This includes team building, management, understanding negotiation and mediation, and other things that I use every day.


What would you say are the fundamental differences between the new leadership and Upshaw’s?


Strangely, not many differences. De and I are both students of history and look back to those that have been caretakers of the N.F.L.P.A. for perspective. Much of what we have been saying publicly in this job is very similar to what Gene said during challenging times. We never had a chance to meet Gene, but once a month we look through his archived notes to gain insight into this role. History is very important to us, but I think that our ability to develop plans and strategies from outside the sports world is probably the biggest difference.


How has the dynamic between the league and the N.F.L.P.A. changed since the new leadership?


I think we are still feeling each other out. Adverse actions, however, create some tense feelings. When the owners opted out of the C.B.A. in 2006, they initiated a strategy to possibly lock out the players. Despite public comments to the contrary, the actions taken by the league — in particular hiring Bob Batterman, the lead counsel that built the strategy for N.H.L. lockout — have shown otherwise. This is the atmosphere that we assumed our roles under and it creates innate tension. Once the negotiations become more constructive, I think you’ll see some of that ease.

In the interest of full FTC-required blogger disclosure rules, let me say that I’ve hung out with Atallah a bit in recent months, and, knowing that our household is fond of the Steelers, he gave a pair of Rod Woodson jerseys to my kids. I would have returned them except — well, I didn’t want to. On the other hand: I bought Atallah dinner at a place that wasn’t too cheap, so I came out on well behind.

Addendum: Atallah answers your questions here.


Concussions are in the news, rightfully so, and I read somewhere (sorry don't have the citation) that the NFLPA did not support the commissioner's request that fellow players speak up if/when they believe someone on their team has a potential concussion. Whether or not any of that is true, what's your take on that issue? If you choose to address the question, please do so in isolation, as I know many steps can be taken in other areas to enhance player safety; I'm more interested in the your personal, or the NFLPA's, take on that particular scenario.

Second, who's your favorite active player to work with and why?


With regard to the actual gameplay, what is the NFLPA doing about the undeserved penalties that seem to be increasing significantly? I don't mean when refs miss calls -- I know they are human -- but calling roughing the passer when defenders nudge the quarterback (a la the Ravens and Tom Brady) and consistently inconsistent pass interference calls. Both can (and have this season) instantly change the course of a game. Is there any chance coaches' challenges can be applied to penalties?


Do you think it would be beneficial to the league if they were allow a more free flow of of media including old clips & highlights? For example, Kenny Mayne does a great weekly piece on the NFL for ESPN, but the shows can't be shown online (e.g.,, youtube) after they air because they include game footage. Seems like the NFL, and the NFLPA, woud have some economic incentives for that type of footage to be more accessible by the fans. Am I wrong?


The Financial Advisor Registration Program is a great resource for players, yet players are still being defrauded by unscrupulous financial advisors and attorneys. Has any sort of financial education program been considered for new players?


In the following economist article, the author shows a graph of players salary growth by professional league from 1990.
It's striking that NFL players have had lower salary growth than the MLB, and NHL as the NFL has become the most profitable league and gained more "sports related" market share than any other league in that time period.
The article implies that this is due to the weakness of the union (because football players have shorter careers than other athletes on avg.) but is it possible that the NFLPA and players have had the foresight to participate in revenue sharing and salary caps to support growth of the league as a whole? It would be a remarkable example of win-win thinking, if true.

Brooke de Lench

As a youth sports expert and the “media pioneer for youth sports concussion information and prevention” I have been following what the NFL has been doing and saying closely. Three questions (1) why the player's union – if it won't support pro players telling the coaching/medical staff about concussion signs/symptoms of teammates – won't support that kind of “buddy system” at the youth, high school and college level; (2) why parents of football players should believe what the union says when Sean Morey didn't do what he advises youth players to do: self-report symptoms? Isn't a case of do as we say, not as we do? And, 3) I was the keynote speaker at last year's National Sports Concussion Summit. I invited the NFL to do a formal outreach with us to provide additional information to sports parents—will you consider this at this point?

For additional information please read a recent blog of mine: Concussions: Follow the Leader?

Brooke de Lench
Author: Home Team Advantage: The Critical Role of Mothers In Youth Sports (Harper Collins 2006)




The recent story in the New Yorker seems spot on = both football (with debilitating concussions leading to more serious brain injuries) and dog fighting (dogs being eaten alive by another dog or tortured and killed by the dog's owner) are similar in that they almost guarantee the destruction of the participant on some level. Why should society condone football that involves human beings when it prohibits dog fighting?

Mike L

While the union and the league need to agree on equipment changes to prevent concussions, as a youth football coach/parent, I can unilaterally decide what additional equipment my team must wear and insist on it. What do you recommend?


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?


What is the average age of death for a former NFL player? I've heard that it's much lower than average, due to recurring health problems following even a short career.

Also, do you think that the minimum career length to receive NFL pension should be shorter for different positions? Running backs rarely make it to a second contract term, but probably take more abuse than any other position in their short careers.


I realize the forum that Mr. Atallah had was limited. However, I would have hoped to see some mention of a new emphasis toward retired players issues, specifically concerning a significant increase in pension payments and a reformed disability process that accounts for the peculiar aspects of a pro football career. Considering that all of the current news on brain trauma injury and concussions was started and maintained by independent retired players years ago, up to and including the summit this past May in Las Vegas that featured two of the foremost experts in this field, it would seem time that the NFLPA at least add retired players to the priority list, even if it is at the bottom.

Just Me

Is the union at all concerned with increasing pensions and health benefits for former players or is it strictly concerned with getting the most for its current members?

Kavon Akhtar

What is the likelihood of the NFLPA and the Owners agreeing on a labor agreement for the 2010 season? If they fail to come to an agreement by the deadline, is a lockout in the near future? Or will we have a Madden-like uncapped year? What is the main issue the two sides are negotiating over, rookies?

Orlando S.

What was the NFLPA's reaction to Roger Goodell not punishing Tom Cable for the allegations against him when he is notorious for being tough on the NFL staying clean? And then that same month fining $20,000 Chad Ochocino for a goofy joke?


What is your view on games shown exclusively on NFL Network? (the majority of the country have no access to it)


Why did the NFLPA approve neurologists and neurosurgeons as independent who sit on the NFL m-TBI committee? Example: Joe Maroon and Mark Lovell.

Why does the NFLPA let the league use ImPact exclusively that is owned by Dr. Maroon and Mark Lovell?

Why would the NFLPA trust results from an instrument that seems to have failed to detect so many recent injuries?


How would you suggest that somebody who is fresh out of law school and is interested in labor law go about getting a legal job with the NFLPA or any other professional sports players' union?

thank you and good luck in upcoming negotiations.


Does the NFLPA have any influence, by way of push back against seeming draconian fines? I know you have no say... but any influence or leverage to ensure that the league isn't giving (salaries) with one hand and taking (fines) with the other?

Keith H.

In the era of the salary cap which seems to be the reason that teams only need roughly 2 or 3 years to make a turnaround - turning a non-playoff team into a playoff team - don't you think that a rookie salary cap makes sense? Is the players' union opposed to such a cap or pre-structured table that states each year what the #1 overall would make? A couple of bad choices - only a couple - can cause a major setback of a team for many years because of the guaranteed money involved and the way it is accelerated against the cap if the player is cut. The team may face a five-year setback due to a couple of bad draft picks.


are the ancillary league workers (trainers, refs, etc)unionized as well?