Aug 24, 2006 



Gumbel's Remarks Right On


Bryant Gumbel is being pilloried because he's honest even in the face of the his new employer, the NFL Network, soon to be the sports equivalent of the Fox News Channel.

Gumbel's remarks were assuredly ill-timed and peculiarly old news. The NFLPA's leader, Gene Upshaw, has been generally regarded as the worst union head of any of the four major sports unions since he allowed his players, namely Joe Montana, cross the picket lines during the strike of 1987. (Montana's hostility to labor unions is another blog for another time).

While Upshaw did win a larger share of the NFL's purse strings and had the salary cap rise to nearly $100 million per team, his Ineptitude is cancelled by the fact that the most successful sports league on Earth does not guarantee the contracts of its employees.

Unlike other sports, football players deserve more financial protections because of the inherent physical risks of the game. The average player can expect to last three years in pads. Many casual sports observers may not realize this inequity apart from others sports where someone like the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez can sign a $250 million contract and readily expect to receive every penny over the life of the contract. This is not so in the NFL. When the Raiders resigned an aging Rich Gannon to a $40 million contract over six years, both the Raiders and Gannon knew that he would not physically last six more years and the contract could be voided after two years. Of course, Gannon nearly had his neck broken and retired to the television booth.

Gumbel's name-calling may have been lowdown, but he is a former newsman with NBC's Today show and may have seen the coziness between the union chief and the NFL commissioner as an allegory for the fall of labor unions in this country and the rich becoming moreso as a result.

It's to the root of what Gumbel is saying. If you want to reap a bountiful crop of cold cash and do it efficiently, just cut out the needs of the workers. If the NFL had to pay its players guaranteed salaries and be at the mercy of a pure market it would be called Major League Baseball. Of course, few Americans would sympathize with the cranky millionaires in any sport, but the same dynamic occurs throughout this country, the rich get richer and labor continues to crumble into a million disjointed pieces.