In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, presidential elections, the suspensions of the NBA and MLB seasons, and NBA players such as Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell contracting the virus, the NFL has likely never been farther from American minds. And rightfully so.
Under such circumstances, it’s easy to forget NFL players’ vote on the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is due by 11:59pm on Saturday. The decision will impact NFL players for the next 10 years while the average NFL player career is only 2.5 years, plus a lifetime of pain.
NFL safety Eric Reid has implored fellow players to vote “No” on CBA and has called it “a bigger disaster than we could have imagined.” Reid is far from alone as other high-profile players to publicly reject the proposal include Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt and Richard Sherman.
Reid asked lawyers Ben Meiselas and Mark Geragos to review the proposed NFL collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The lawyers published a 4-page fact sheet claiming the CBA proposal “disproportionately enriches ownership,” “reduces players safety” and “guts disability benefits.” Other key areas of disagreement outlined include: a 17-game schedule proposal which owners declared a “non-negotiable issue”; gambling revenue sharing that “that is not sufficiently addressed or valued” and a 10-yr proposal without any opt-out that “burdens players with the risks”.
In an exclusive interview with Deadspin, Reid details why he feels NFL players “shouldn’t stand for this.” (The NFL did not reply to a request for comment.)
CHUCK MODIANO: Besides you, many high-profile players such as J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman have strongly opposed the proposed CBA. What are you hearing is the biggest objection?
ERIC REID: The biggest issue is that there are both moral and economic issues. Let me speak to some moral issues first. There is a group of our current membership that will, down the road, depend on disability benefits. We don’t know who that will be, but it will happen to some of us. We don’t know who will be injured, but we know if that player is a minimum-salary player, they are more likely to suffer a disabling injury, more likely to require disability benefits. And we know that the benefits will be a large and meaningful portion of their family economics when they do receive them. A top-earning player is less likely to apply for these benefits, go through the red tape, because the benefits are four figures per month. The proposal guts those future benefits that are designed as a safety net for current members who become our most vulnerable.
Secondly, this proposal – for very little economic savings – takes from our current disabled retirees who have already gone through the rigorous system and been awarded thousands of dollars per month in benefits. Right now there are disabled players who depend on these checks to support themselves and their families. The proposal specifically and drastically reduces the monthly check that current disabled players are receiving. I can’t imagine any offset that would justify taking from our current disabled retirees, and a 48 to 52 percent economic split the other way, isn’t enough to look the other way on this moral issue.
The biggest economic issue is that the gambling revenue is systematically being diverted away from shared revenue. The new pie created from legalized gambling is the largest windfall the game or Players Association membership has seen in decades. There is no justification for such large and uncapped revenue streams being excluded from shared revenue. There is no justification for such massive exclusions, and no economic tradeoff found in the proposal that justifies this massive loss to players. What happens when they have a sports book or casino in or outside the stadium? Best-case scenario is that the players will share in only a small fraction of the owners’ annual casino revenue. However, if the owner is well advised, none of that revenue will be shared. Owners will likely bring in partners in operating these casinos. This proposal excludes all gambling related revenue if the club is a 5% or less owner in the casino. Of course they will be! Five percent of a casino is a lot. The money from this giveaway, in itself, could increase the minimum salary and cure a broken benefits system many times over.
CM: Aaron Rodgers recently said, in talking to many players, “nobody wanted 17 games before the negotiations.” What are the primary objections you have or have heard from others about adding a 17th game?
ER: In this negotiation there are many issues, but none so fundamental to so many other issues than a 17th game. A 17th game impacts the length of everyone’s career; it impacts injuries, recovery time and exponentially increases the likelihood that a player will be injured, and thus increases the likelihood of disability. If the disability were to remain an actual safety net for the most vulnerable players, a 17th game would increase the number of players relying on disability benefits over time.
They are adding a full game, something membership is totally against. The narrative that this proposal is good for the minimum-earning player is simply wrong.
CM: Increasing NFL player safety has been a big topic the last few years. The memo your attorneys wrote on the CBA proposal states it “reduces player safety benefits & guts disability benefits”. What are the central issues?
ER: Disability benefits are reduced to historic lows, by four-fifths in some cases. There is a current class of retired players that are by definition the most vulnerable, determined, by doctors, to be disabled and unable to perform any work at all. I’m told that these families have letters from the NFL benefits program verifying their current level of benefits will be for life, for mortgages and loans. These families state they depend on these four-figure benefits payouts each month to survive. This proposal reduces these previously awarded benefits. It goes back and takes from disabled retirees. It breaks promises already made, promises made to the most vulnerable players. This is a clear moral issue. We need moral courage right now. Talent drives this ecosystem, and we shouldn’t stand for this. Reductions to the disabled shouldn’t be on the table. It’s not economically needed. If players were to capture 48 percent of the true gambling revenue, there would be no need to take from our most vulnerable like this.
Around 2007 Congress pushed for reform in the NFL disability program. Hundreds of players were denied by the NFL program, despite being determined totally disabled by the federal government agency that makes such determinations, the Social Security Administration. At that time, the NFL program agreed to accept the Social Security Administration determination as a determination for the NFL program. Most disabled NFL players are awarded their benefits though this method. The process is fair, saves on red tape and makes the fight for benefits a little more bearable. The proposed CBA specifically says that the NFL program will not award disability benefits based on the U.S. government’s determination. This is an unnecessary burden, one created to leverage against disabled players and their families. Players from our current membership that become disabled will have an infinitely harder road toward receiving needed benefits. This seems technical but it disrupts the lives of our most vulnerable. This shouldn’t be on the table.
Wives and adult children will have to fight red tape unnecessarily. For what purpose? There is no justification for it. This provision saves crumbs and disrupts the lives of our most vulnerable.
CM: Most NFL players make the minimum salary and may be hesitant to speak out against this proposed CBA. What are some of the issues that would most impact those players?
ER: The best thing for vulnerable players, minimum salary players, players who will eventually depend on safety net benefits, players that suffer catastrophic injuries, is a strong Players Association. A Players Association that has the faith of the full membership, and a membership that stands together.
This proposal increases the minimum salary, which would be immediately effective. But this is a strategy to influence the votes of minimum-salary players — that is optimism causing confusion. If a player is motivated by an extra $100,000 now – and I understand that, that is real – then they are more likely to be more dependent upon future benefits, medical costs being covered or having civil recourse. Both are being gutted. If we allow this, the most meaningful economic protections get eroded for minimal increases to minimum salary. If a player is swayed by the minimum-salary increase they need to spend time understanding the benefits nightmare awaiting as well. Being informed is key.
CM: Are there any other key issues involving this proposal we didn’t address?
ER: The new language in the proposed deal will be used to erode player rights during conduct infractions. The communication used to pitch this proposal to Players Association membership is telling. They push a false narrative, leave out key facts, and only give out fact sheets after many players have voted. They won’t let players who become educated change their vote. The process is important in order to grow into a strong and powerful Players Association that this talented bunch of guys should be. It’s a missed opportunity for strength through unity. An increase to minimum salary is far offset by the moral and economic concessions the proposal makes, both negatively impacting minimum-salary players.
This proposal asks us to give in on moral issues, like protecting disabled players, and give in on economic issues, like gambling exclusions, and then lock those concessions in for longer than any deal in history.