American Football Database

The National Football League Players Association, or NFLPA, is the trade association of players in football's National Football League, and was the players' labor union before decertifying. It was founded in 1956, but only achieved recognition and a collective bargaining agreement in 1968. After a lost strike in 1987, the union was formally decertified, converting into a professional association in order to pursue antitrust litigation designed to win free agency for its members. When that tactic worked it reformed as a union and resumed collective bargaining with the league in 1993. On July 25th, 2011 the NFL and NFLPA came to an agreement on a new 10 year CBA thus rendering the recertification of the union. [1]

Formation and recognition

The union formed in 1956 when football players on the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns formed a union[2] to demand that the clubs provide players with a minimum league-wide salary and per diem pay, uniforms and equipment paid for and maintained at the clubs' expense and continued payment of their salaries while they were injured and unable to play. Don Shula of the Baltimore Colts, John Gordy of the Detroit Lions,[3] Frank Gifford and Sam Huff of the New York Giants, and Norm Van Brocklin of the Los Angeles Rams led the organizing drive.[4]

Creighton Miller, a former Notre Dame football player turned lawyer, represented the union.[5] Unable to win their attention by organizing, the association threatened to bring an antitrust lawsuit against the league. That threat became much more credible when the United States Supreme Court ruled in Radovich v. National Football League, 352 U.S. 445 (1957), that the NFL did not enjoy the same antitrust immunity that Major League Baseball did.[4] Rather than face another lawsuit, the owners granted most of the players' demands (including minimal insurance and pension plans and a basic salary for stars and rank-and-file players alike), but did not enter into a collective bargaining agreement with the association or formally recognize it as their exclusive bargaining representative.[4][6]

The NFLPA was divided over whether it should act as a professional association or a union. Against the wishes of NFLPA presidents Pete Retzlaff and later Bernie Parrish, Miller refused to engage in collective bargaining (which would have permitted the association to challenge the college draft and the option clause), and instead ran the union as a grievance committee.[6] The players continued to use the threat of antitrust litigation over the next few years as a lever to win better benefits, including a pension and health insurance plan, and payment for exhibition games.[4] The NFLPA sought to affiliate with the AFL-CIO, but was rejected.[4] In January 1968, Parrish proposed forming a players' union with the assistance of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.[6] Although Parrish's proposal was defeated, Miller left the union as executive director (although it is unclear whether he was forced out or quit).[6]

On January 14, 1964, players in the American Football League formed the AFL Players Association, and elected Tom Addison of the Boston Patriots president.[7]

In the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (led by St. Louis Teamster leader Harold Gibbons and Hoffa top aide Charles "Chuckie" O'Brien) pushed the NFLPA into joining the trucking union.[8] In early November 1967, Parrish, backed by former Cleveland Browns player Jim Brown, began distributing union cards to form a Teamsters affiliate known as the American Federation of Pro Athletes.[9][10] The NFLPA rejected the overture at its meeting in Hollywood, Florida, the first week of January 1968 and declared itself an unaffiliated union.[11][12]

Just six months later, the NFLPA won recognition from the owners and its first collective bargaining contract. On July 3, 1968, after talks with the owners stalled, the NFLPA voted to strike, and the owners countered by declaring a lockout.[3][13] But on July 14, the owners relented and the brief strike was over.[14][15] Although the players could celebrate winning a collective bargaining agreement from the owners, the concessions they received were small. The owners compromised by agreeing to contribute about $1.5 million to the pension fund but maintained minimum salaries of $9,000 for rookies, $10,000 for veterans and $50 per exhibition game, and no independent arbitration.[15]

In 1970 the NFL and AFL Players Associations merged.[16][17] The 1970 contract was a weak one,[4] largely due to the fact that the union representing members of the former American Football League, which had just merged with the NFL but was still operating separately during the contract talks, had accepted the lesser terms offered by the owners.

Merger and progress

The NFLPA had chilly relations, at best, with its counterpart that represented AFL players. The NFLPA had attempted to block the merger of the two leagues in 1966, believing that the existence of a rival league gave individual players more bargaining power. After the two leagues merged, the two unions remained separate until 1970, when the AFL players, led by Jack Kemp of the Buffalo Bills, agreed to merge under the leadership of John Mackey of the Baltimore Colts.[4] The employers continued, however, to treat the union lightly in negotiations, prompting the NFLPA to formally (and successfully) petition the National Labor Relations Board for union certification.[4]

The newly merged union found itself in just as weak a position as it had been in before. After a brief strike during training camp in July 1970, the union won the right for players to bargain through their own agents with the clubs, improvements in basic salaries and pensions, dental care, and impartial arbitration for injury grievances.[4][18] But it was unable to make much progress on its economic demands, and many union representatives were fired from teams.[4] The Association therefore returned to the tactic that it had used in the past: an antitrust lawsuit challenging the league's compensation clause, popularly known as "the Rozelle Rule." This rule allowed any team that lost a free agent to another team to receive something of equal value to his former team. The account of the NFLPA was discontinued years later. This rule severely limited player movement, as few teams were willing to risk signing a high-profile free agent only to risk having their rosters gutted. For instance, a team that signed a blue-chip free agent could be forced to give up its next two first-round draft picks, or worse.

While that litigation (Mackey v. NFL, 543 F.2d 606 (8th Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 801) proved successful,[4] the union found that making progress in bargaining was harder to achieve. It eliminated the Rozelle Rule in bargaining in 1977[4] and obtained improved benefits and grievance procedures, but had not achieved true free agency or reached its goal of winning 55 percent of league revenues for players.

1982 strike

The 1982 NFL strike began on September 21, 1982, and lasted 57 days until November 16, 1982. During this time, no NFL games were played. The essential cause of the strike was over a dispute over the percentage of gross revenues that the league gave to its players. The NFLPA wanted the percentage increased to 55 percent.[19]

NFLPA All-Star Games

During this time, the NFLPA promoted two "all-star games." One was held at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., on October 17, 1982, between two teams billed as "National East" and "American East." National East won 23-22. On the following day, October 18, another game was played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum between players from the "American West" and the "National West." American West won 31-27. Both teams wore generic uniforms, with the home teams wearing red and the visiting teams wearing white. The NFLPA had hoped that the league's biggest stars would show up for the game, but few of them did, possibly because the players on strike had no health insurance and therefore were totally responsible for any injuries suffered on the field. (One of the few stars who did play, future Hall of Famer John Riggins, said "I guess I'll do just about anything for money.") Even the game officials, mostly local high school and college refs, preferred to remain anonymous.

Neither game drew well: only 8,760 fans in Washington, D.C., and just 5,331 in the cavernous L.A. Coliseum, [1] despite a local TV blackout and ticket prices starting at six dollars [2]. The games were televised by Ted Turner, who bought the rights and syndicated them to local stations around the country; however, ratings were poor.

Although more all-star games had been scheduled by the NFLPA (including one the following week at Varsity Stadium in Toronto), none were played.

Replacement programming

TV networks scrambled to make adjustments to their schedules. NBC added more Major League Baseball games and some Canadian Football League contests were also telecast. (Some of the CFL games featured the Edmonton Eskimos and their eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback, Warren Moon.) CBS aired a rebroadcast of Super Bowl XVI the week after the strike began, then added editions of the CBS Sports Spectacular. On one Sunday afternoon, CBS aired regional coverage of two Division III college football games: one between Baldwin-Wallace College and Wittenberg University, and the other between the University of San Diego and Occidental College. ABC replaced Monday Night Football with movies.

As a result of the strike, the season schedule was reduced from 16 games to nine and the playoffs expanded to 16 teams (eight from each conference) for a "Super Bowl tournament." CBS and NBC aired regional telecasts on both days (Saturday and Sunday, January 8 and 9) of first round games. The Washington Redskins won the tournament by capturing Super Bowl XVII.

1987 strike and decertification

The NFLPA struck for a month in 1987. On this occasion, however, they only succeeded in canceling one week of the season. For the next three weeks, the NFL staged games with hastily assembled replacement teams. They were made up of several players cut during training camp, as well as a few veterans who crossed the picket lines. The television networks showcased these games as if they featured players of the same quality as the veterans who were out on strike. Many of the league's owners had anticipated a strike and had put replacements on standby for $1,000 per game.

However, the NFLPA failed to set up a strike fund to cover lost salaries. Fearing that the owners would cut off their annuities, 89 players crossed the picket line. Among the most prominent players to immediately cross the line were New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau and Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Randy White. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent later joined the replacement players and other strikebreakers.

Faced with cracks in union support, the willingness of the networks to broadcast the replacement games, and hostile public sentiment, the union voted to go back to work on October 15, 1987, without a collective bargaining agreement. They had to wait another week to get back on the field, however, since they hadn't come back by the owners' deadline. The union filed a new antitrust suit that same day.

The Court of Appeals ultimately rejected that suit on the ground that the labor exemption from antitrust liability protected the employers, even though the union was no longer party to a collective bargaining agreement that would have permitted the practices that the union was challenging. In response, the union formally disclaimed any interest in representing NFL players in collective bargaining and reformed itself as a professional organization in 1989. Having done that, the following year union members, led by Freeman McNeil of the New York Jets, brought a new antitrust action against the NFL challenging its free agency rules as an unlawful restraint of trade.

The players ultimately prevailed, after a jury trial on their claims, in that action. That verdict, the pendency of other antitrust cases and the threat of a class action filed by Reggie White, then with the Philadelphia Eagles, on behalf of all NFL players brought the parties back to the negotiating table. They finally agreed on a formula that permitted free agency. In return, the owners demanded and received a salary cap, albeit one tied to a formula based on players' share of total league revenues. The agreement also established a salary floor - minimum payrolls all teams were obliged to pay.

The Redskins—who won the Super Bowl after football resumed in 1982—did so again in Super Bowl XXII. The Redskins had none of their regular players cross the picket lines during the period of replacement games. (The Replacements, a 2000 movie starring Keanu Reeves, is loosely based on the experiences of the Washington Redskins "scabs," which went 3-0 in the regulars' absence.)

Replacement player Sean Payton, who was a quarterback for the Chicago Bears "Spare Bears," eventually worked his way to coaching in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints, winning Super Bowl XLIV as a head coach. Another replacement player, linebacker Eugene Seale impressed Jerry Glanville so much with the Houston Oilers that, after the strike ended, he earned a roster spot and started a successful seven-year career, mostly as a special teams player.

Returning to collective bargaining

The settlement was presented to and approved by the judge who had heard the McNeil antitrust case in 1993. Once the agreement was approved the NFLPA reconstituted itself as a labor union and entered into a new collective bargaining agreement with the league. The NFLPA and the league have extended their 1993 agreement five times, most recently in March 2006 when it was extended through the 2011 season after the NFL owners voted 30-2 to accept the NFLPA's final proposal. However, in May 2008 the owners decided to opt out of this agreement and play the 2010 without a bargaining agreement in place. This means the 2010 season was played without a salary cap (or floor), and there is the looming possibility of no play at all in 2011 if an agreement cannot be reached. A point of contention between the owners and the NFLPA is removing two pre-season games and making them regular-season games, bringing the total number of regular season games to eighteen. Another major topic is former-player insurance after any player has retired.

2011 Decertification

On March 11, 2011, the NFLPA decertified when negotiations with the NFL over a new collective bargaining agreement failed to resolve the labor dispute.[1] The NFLPA is expected to file an anti-trust suit against the league in U.S. district court.[1] Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are among the players to participate in the filing.[1]

Current leadership

The executive director position remained vacant following the death of Gene Upshaw, until March 2009, when DeMaurice Smith was elected. The president is currently Kevin Mawae, a former NFL center.

The executive committee for the NFLPA includes newly elected members: Domonique Foxworth of the Baltimore Ravens, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, and Mike Vrabel of the Kansas City Chiefs as new members of the executive committee. Re-elected members were: Brian Dawkins of the Denver Broncos, Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Richardson of the New York Jets, free agent Kevin Carter, and retired players Keenan McCardell, Mark Bruener, and Donovin Darius. [20]


Executive Director

  • John Gordy (January 16, 1969–November 1, 1969)[3]
  • None (November 1, 1969–1971)
  • Ed Garvey (1971–June 13, 1983)[21]
  • Gene Upshaw (June 13, 1983–August 21, 2008)[22]
  • Richard Berthelsen (August 21, 2008–March 16, 2009) as Interim Executive Director[23]
  • DeMaurice Smith (March 16, 2009–present)[24]


NFLPA (pre-merger)


NFLPA (post-merger)


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Marvez, Alex (2011-03-11). "NFL players' union moves to decertify". Fox Sports. Retrieved 2011-03-11.
  2. Summerall, Pat and Levin, Michael. Giants:What I learned about life from Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. Hoboken, New Jersey.:John Wiley and Sons, Inc, 2010:21. ISBN 9780470909089
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Noland, Claire. "John Gordy, 73, Dies." Los Angeles Times. February 1, 2009.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 Arnesen, Eric. Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-Class History. Boca Raton, Fla.: CRC Press, 2006. ISBN 0415968267
  5. Goldstein, Richard (2002-05-29). "Creighton Miller, 79, Lawyer And Notre Dame Halfback". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Oriard, Michael. Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport. Chapel Hill, N.C.: UNC Press, 2007. ISBN 0807831425
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Players in A.F.L. Form Own Union." New York Times. January 16, 1964.
  8. McGowen, Deane. "Officials of Pro Teams Wary Over the Plans for Union Ties." New York Times. February 5, 1966; "Teamsters Study Bid to Athletes." New York Times. February 5, 1966.
  9. Wallace, William N. "Teamsters Are Still in Game As Football Players Organize." New York Times. January 21, 1968.
  10. "N.F.L. Players Invited To Join a New Union." New York Times. November 3, 1967; Wallace, William N. "Jim Brown Carries Ball for Pro Union." New York Times. November 10, 1967; Carpenter, Les. "Parrish Tackles NFLPA Head-On Seeking Better Pensions for Retirees." Washington Post. June 17, 2007.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "N.F.L. Players Group Votes To Register as Labor Union." United Press International. January 8, 1968.
  12. Wallace, William N. "Pro Football Association Assumes Status of Independent Union." New York Times. January 11, 1968.
  13. Wallace William N. "N.F.L. Players Reject Owners' Offer, Strike Favores By A 377-17 Vote." New York Times. July 3, 1968.
  14. "N.F.L. Will Delay Opening Training." Associated Press. July 7, 1968; "N.F.L. Talks Fail." United Press International. July 9, 1968.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Wallace William N. "The Players Won." New York TImes. July 17, 1968.
  16. "The 1970's - AFL and NFL Players Associations Merge". NFL Players. 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-08.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "Football Players to Seek New Contract." New York Times. March 28, 1970.
  18. Wallace, William N. "It's Fourth Down and 100 Yards to Go as Pro Football Pension Dispute Hardens." New York Times. July 19, 1970; Anderson, Dave. "All-Star Football Game to Be Played, Players Disclose." New York Times. July 25, 1970.
  19. "The 55 Percent Solution," Sports Illustrated, Sep. 26, 1982
  20. "Tennessee's Mawae elected president of NFL Players Association". The Associated Press. March 19, 2009. pp. 1. Retrieved 17 February 2010.
  21. Shaprio, Leonard. "If Garvey's a `Ghost' to Upshaw, He's a Buster to Bad Agents." Washington Post. December 26, 1990.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Battista, Judy. "Gene Upshaw, N.F.L. Union Chief, Dies at 63." New York Times. August 22, 2008.
  23. Weiner, Evan. "NFL Players Association Finds Itself at a Crossroads." New York Sun. September 4, 2008; Bell, Jarrett. "What's Next For NFLPA?" USA Today. August 24, 2008.
  24. "Attorney Smith named Upshaw's successor as NFLPA executive director." Associated Press. March 16, 2009;
  25. Hendricks, Martin. "Howton Sparkled During 'Forgettable '50s'." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. November 22, 2007.
  26. Wallace, William N. "Rozelle Under Fire." New York Times. January 17, 1965.
  27. Brown, Gwilym S. "'I'm Going to Punish Them For Last Year'." Sports Illustrated. August 30, 1971.
  28. "N.F.L., Players in Insurance Dispute." New York Times. February 9, 1974.
  29. Coyne, Jenny. "Dick Anderson, Football Player 1965-1967." Boulder Daily Camera. April 25, 2003.
  30. "Powell Elected." United Press International. April 25, 1986.
  31. "Comings and Goings." New York Times. March 5, 1988.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Wawrow, John. "AP Source: NFLPA Cuts List of Finalists to About 9." Associated Press. December 28, 2008.
  33. "Transactions." New York Times. March 22, 1996.
  34. McGinn, Bob. "Players Favor Vincent." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. January 29, 2009.
  35. "Titan To Represent Players." New York Times. March 20, 2008.

External references