David Zirin Interview on NBA, NFL Labor Disputes

If we weren’t living in such a pivotal moment in history, particularly for the Middle East and African countries that are rising up and taking control of their own destinies, the biggest news would perhaps be Charlie Sheen. Oh wait, never mind. But if it weren’t for Charlie Sheen we would probably be hearing a lot more about the NFL and NBA labor negotiations currently under way.

Unlike Charlie Sheen, who we all know is constantly winning in grandiose fashion, there are no clear winners in the battle between the players unions and the owners of the NFL and the NBA.

The NFL is staring at the end of the Collective Bargaining Agreement that will expire at the stroke of midnight, Thursday going into Friday, March 4th 2011. The NBA has brought both sides together several times including most recently during the All-Star break in Los Angeles, but their potential lockout is still months down the road.

By now if you’re not a sports fan you may be asking yourself, “Why should I care about a few billionaires fighting over money with a bunch of millionaires?” As entitled as you are to that opinion, (You’re WRONG!!!) the bigger picture is that these negotiations just may give you an inside look at the dealings between unions and those that wish to exploit them or destroy them all together. Sometimes it’s easier to wrap your head around these things in the context of sports.

What’s happening in Wisconsin and New Jersey and now Ohio is not too far removed from the NBA and the NFL. In fact, several players have voiced their support for the unions in Wisconsin as they battle forces that seek to do away with their right to collectively bargain. Charles Woodson is one those players. He just happens to be one of the union reps for the publicly owned Super Bowl Champion, Green Bay Packers. So far there the teams’ other union rep, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is assumed to be supportive of the labor unions but has remained publicly silent.

I spent some time talking with Dave Zirin from EdgeofSports.com who was in Wisconsin recently, covering the protests. He called upon Rodgers to take a stand.

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“There are moments in history that are so high strung that silence can be interpreted as a political stance. I have a feeling that Aaron Rodgers falls on the side of the public sector workers because of the fact that he’s the union rep for the team and because of other things that he’s said which at least give credence to the idea that he has some sort of broader social mind. Yet somebody is clearly advising him to be silent and stay out of it. I would only warn Mr. Rodgers that staying out of it becomes in effect a political position, when you’re talking about the State of Wisconsin. Fair or not that’s the truth.”

On the NBA, Dave and I discussed guaranteed contracts and a salary cap, issues that will certainly be part of the negotiations. 

“If owners have proven anything over the last generation, as they become flush with all this TV and Stadium money, it’s that they have no self control. So they call upon these CBA’s to give them an external control, really to prevent them from spending their money.”

In the NBA in particular, there is a debate about how to restrict the star players from abandoning their current team for a more desirable destination, whether that be a bigger market, a team that can pay the most money, or contend for a championship. They tried to entice the players to stay by allowing their current team to be able to pay more than any potential suitor looking to sign them as a free agent. It’s called the Larry Bird Rule and it doesn’t work because there are too many loopholes.

Owners will be looking to include a “Franchise Tag” to players. This tag, if it is anything like the rule that’s in place for the NFL, will allow teams to designate a player as the “Franchise player” giving them another year to keep that player after the terms of their previous contract have expired. It’s just one of many battles between the Free Market and Regulation and it’s playing out right before our eyes.

Listen to the whole interview with Dave Zirin here