organized protection to cover the players

The players’ associations are the perfect illustration of the politicization of American sport. But how are these unions organized and, above all, what are their main actions?

According to Laura Ingraham, athletes should “shut up and dribble”† In her words, in February 2018, the polemicist and conservative journalist at Fox denied the citizenship and right of speech of basketball players LeBron James and Kevin Durant after their remarks against Donald Trump. By reducing them to ball-playing machines, new evidence was born to show that there was only one step between sports and politics and that American sports leagues have indeed become politicized.

Last week, Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr spoke out against the gun lobby and the increase in mass shootings in the United States after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Reduce Owners’ Superpower

To reform is to develop. With this in mind, the American sports leagues began to grow in the 1950s. At that time, the NBA began to evolve by attracting new franchises, the NHL (hockey) and the MLB (baseball). recommendations to increase their attractiveness. And finally, the NHL, which then consisted of only six teams, tried to open the doors for its first major expansion.

On the advice of Boston star Bob Cousy, an NBA players’ union called . was formed in 1954 National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), now led by fullback CJ McCollum. At the time, the players wanted their voices heard to denounce low salaries ($8,000 a year), lack of health benefits, a pension plan and a minimum wage.

Two years later, in 1956, it was the turn of the NFL (US Football) to form its union National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) when the two Cleveland Browns players Abe Gibron and Dante Lavelli reached out to an attorney to form an association to defend the players’ interests. The demands were rather pecuniary with the elaboration of a minimum wage, taking responsibility for equipment and continued payment of wages in case of injury.

NFL boss Roger Goodell, often criticized by the US Football Players Association since 2006. Gary Vasquez / PANORAMIC

In MLB it will be necessary to wait until 1966 for the establishment of the official players’ association, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), and only 1967 for NHL with the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) following Ted Lindsey and Doug Harvey’s relegation to the minor leagues after asking the league for full transparency on economic numbers made public.

As in any period of innovation, it is important to avoid certain excesses by disregarding the direct players in the life of the leagues: the creation of trade unions and associations therefore stems from the desire to protect the players, in the heart of the development of the leagues. so that they are not harmed or used as mere tools for franchise expansion or league management.

Ensuring the right to speak about the evolution of the competitions

Over the years, and as these associations gain in importance, the field of activity of players’ unions goes beyond the simple framework of social benefits to play a broader role in sporting change directly related to sport. This power allows players to influence the evolution of the competitions, and in particular the proposals made to change the internal system or even certain aspects of the game and the organization of the seasons.

In the event of disagreement with the managers or commissioners, the players’ unions may exclusion which in short takes the form of a general strike delaying the start of the season.

The 2004 NHL season was canceled almost entirely before the NHLPA reached an agreement with the league that a salary ceiling for each franchise. In the NBA, the players’ association has approved the organization of the private bubble in Orlando during the 2020 Playoffs during the Covid-19 pandemic. A major revolution that the basketball league has brought about, but by taking a closer look at the basketball players involved.

In American football, the most recent example is the signing of a new 10-year deal in 2020 that changes the format of the Playoffs, which will go to 14 teams with a shortened preseason. A major change to the operation of the league, decided with the approval of the NFLAP. The NFL has also frequently faced questions about marijuana use by its athletes, as well as players’ mental health, which have been linked to, among other things, concussions from violent shocks.

Take a stand on non-sporting issues

If sport is a great means of communication, then competitions play the role of a perfect platform to spread social messages and give weight to a cause or a fight. Athletes have been able to take advantage of their regular organization to meet and discuss annoying topics, important social issues for American society. Athlete yes, but mostly an American citizen and the athletes have taken it well.

In the digital age where social networks are ubiquitous, where a simple tweet can upset Wall Street, athletes know they have a voice that carries, a natural charisma among several young active generations.

If the players’ unions don’t organize real official demonstrations, they agree that it is important to express opinions. This perspective accelerated in the 2010s with various speeches, gestures and symbols that athletes did not hesitate to say, wear and repeat in their respective careers.

The best illustration remains the case of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick when he knelt during the National Anthem before an NFL game. A gesture to protest against racism in the United States and police brutality against African Americans: A wave of support subsequently erupted in the NFL with his teammate Eric Reid and his coach Chip Kelly as well as in the other leagues, most notably in the NBA.

After he left San Francisco, no franchise offered him a contract, and Kaepernick decided to file a lawsuit against the league and its owners for collusion that would prevent him from playing in the NFL. A decision encouraged by several NFL Players Union players.

The other striking example concerns the NBA, following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, where many NBA players gathered on the streets of several cities to join the cause. black lives matter† The NBA Players’ Association went so far as to force the league to postpone meetings because the teams refused to play, at a time when social struggles were more important.

Other social issues have drawn attention in American sports, especially for the LGBTQ community. Many athletes have used their competition to come out over the years, such as David Denson (baseball) in 2019, Jason Collins (NBA) in 2013 or even Michael Sam, Ryan O’Callaghan and Ryan Russell (American football) – just to name a few.