Rick Reilly Goes Union-Busting

Rick Reilly popped another reheated turd out of the microwave. It's a variation on his standard deification of golf as the world's most perfect sport. But here's the twist: this time those blue collar heroes of the links are contrasted with the greedy millionaires of the NBA and NFL.

For the 116th straight season, it looks as if American golf is going to get through another year without a labor stoppage. Arnold Palmers for everybody.

Not true in the NFL and the NBA ā€” both are in lockouts now ā€” but how we don't have one in golf I'll ever know. If anybody should strike, it's golfers. They have the crummiest deal since Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace.

A lockout is not a strike, and basketball and football players are not on strike. I don't believe Reilly knows this. I also don't believe he knows the difference between a professional sports league and an organization that sanctions a series of discrete tournaments, the PGA Tour.

But he thinks he knows enough to spend an entire column painting the basketball players as the bad guys: rich, pampered, ungrateful. (Not a word on the owners, of course.) Those scrappy golfers, on the other hand, they've really got it tough.

Not one of them has a guaranteed contract. In golf, you're promised zilch. You play good, you eat good. You play bad and you're suddenly working behind your uncle's pharmacy counter.

Per diem? Please. In golf, "per diem" translates as "What my wife gives me in the morning."

Contract year? Every year is your contract year.

[...]

In golf, you pay for your own transportation, your own meals, your own medical, your own lodging.

Working hard amid relative privation is what define a virtuous man, argues the lazy and "redonkulously" wealthy columnist. That might have sounded more effective if he were kin to the workaday golfer rather than the untouchable NBA or NFL player. But Reilly is not a freelancer. His paycheck isn't directly contingent on performance. He doesn't have to pay expenses out of his own pocket. He has everything he decries in "your basic American multimillionaire team-sport union-backed jocks," and all of it is the fruit of collective bargaining. First at the Denver Post, which is a closed shop for The Newspaper Guild, and more recently at Sports Illustrated, where all writers are covered under the Guild's CBA. There, with the blessings and protections of the union, he parlayed his platform and popularity into a bidding war, the likes of which would be familiar to any free agent.

The point isn't whether unions are good, or bad, or what their appropriate role is in the unique marketplace that is professional sports. The point is that they exist solely to act in the interest of their members, and Reilly is being either ignorant or malicious when he begrudges anyone the exact same benefits he enjoys.

"Nice work if you can get it," Reilly writes of Greg Oden in this, a mailed-in, poorly thought-out column in the middle of the fourth year of his guaranteed five-year, $17 million deal with ESPN. Nice work if you can get it.