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Monday, September 13, 2010


Logic and the NFL

Yes the title is correct, the logic of collective action and the National Football League. How do those two belong in the same sentence together? Well let me tell you. I love the NFL(and yes the Bengals are going to win the Super Bowl this year like every year right until they go 3-13), and sometimes its easy to lose sight that the players on the field aren't just football players but they are highly paid employees of the NFL. As workers they have interests to protect just like coal miners or any other workers do. Interestingly enough, the theories discussed in Logic are very relevant to the NFL.

Logic discusses the origins of unions and how they emerged originally as small groups that fought for the rights of their workers. As seen in the article posted above, the NFLPA (NFL players association, a union) started as a group interested in securing basic rights for the players such as sufficient per diem money for food and so on. As the popularity and revenue that the NFL brought in increased over time, the NFLPA became a much more powerful and well known union.

The NFLPA provides its players many selective incentives to be a part of the union. Although I have not found in my research whether membership is compulsory, there are many reasons why the players would want to be a part of this union. The NFLPA has fought for minimum wages for their players and health benefits for retired players just to name a few. I have not found any reports in my research saying that there are players in the NFL not in the NFLPA, which would lead me to conclude that while it may not be compulsory to join the union, every player in the NFL is part of the union. Without the security that the NFLPA provides to the players through benefits, minimum wage, and free agency rights, players would be vulnerable to be exploited by the NFL owners and the league. So in summary, the NFLPA is held together by the selective incentives that it offers to its members.

Another topic of interest from this article is the NFLPA strikes. During the first strike the season had to be cancelled because nobody wanted to play until they had a collective bargaining deal in place, which is not too exciting in our discussion of Logic, but the second strike brings me to a bigger point. In the 1987 strike, many star players including Joe Montana crossed the picket lines and starting playing football. In Logic, Olson states that there is a very strong incentive for workers to cross the picket lines and work because it gives them a good source of income that they would not be receiving otherwise. To my knowledge, the NFLPA did not have a real forceful way to keep their players from playing, so this fits right in with Olsen's theory. Whether it was the income and benefits or the pure joy of playing football that caused players to cross the picket lines, without a real force to keep players from playing the NFLPA strike buckled because they couldn't keep enough of their players off the field and participating in the strike. Apparently the goals that the union were trying to accomplish were not enough to keep the players from striking.

If you haven't been paying attention to ESPN lately, the current collective bargaining agreement ran out this past year and there is a potential work stoppage looming next year. The NFLPA is trying to increase the percentage of NFL revenue given to the player salaries, which has the NFL owners and commissioner scrambling to come to an agreement with the union. It is yet to be seen whether the players will execute a strike for higher wages or if the individual incentive to keep playing football will force the union to buckle yet again. I guess we'll find out next year.

I would like you to give some more thought to why "prominent" players, e.g., Montana, would choose to cross the picket line. The reason would also be a reason why "prominent" players might choose not to join the union, and I'm sure that in the past some players (a San Diego QB as I recall for one)chose not to be members of the union.

When you think about this, keep in mind that if employer-employee bargaining is voluntary and no force is involved, the employee will be paid the marginal revenue product.
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