Full disclosure: I belong to a labor union.
It was two, once upon a time. I joined the American Federation of Radio-Television Artists almost 40 years ago, when they were combined with the Screen Actors Guild. Then they split, and then they reunited. So I'm a card-carrying member of a union. I understand the problems, the places unions have swung the pendulum too far.
(In 1969, just before my senior year at the University of Missouri, I won an internship at a radio station in Washington, D.C. I didn't make enough to afford the union dues, so I couldn't be on the air, but I could be a reporter. In my first two weeks I almost caused a revolt and a technicians' strike when I picked up a telephone to make a call to do a phone interview with a source. Only engineers were allowed to touch the telephones in the newsroom. Who knew?)
I also understand why unions exist. Couple of reasons. In very large industries, workers need someone to look after their health and safety in the workplace. That's just history. And in some unique industries, employment can be so complicated that someone has to speak for even highly paid workers. That's why they exist in professional sports.
Like players and coaches, some unions do a better job than others. As we come out of the Labor Day weekend (designed to celebrate the American worker) and enter into another NFL regular season, we have a couple of reminders a little closer to home than we'd like.
There are lots of Cowboys-Giants X's and O's elsewhere here on DallasCowboys.com. But maybe we can engage in a little big picture reflection on how the National Football League Players' Association might be doing better by its members.
The whole question of what a union is *supposed *to do is fluid and evolutionary. If you ask the men who played in the 1960s for relatively little money, no serious health benefits and working conditions barbaric by today's standards, just more money would have been enough. And frequently money has been the centerpiece of public attention in union related matters through the years. Every time there's a threat of a labor action, most media and fans are quick to ask, "How much money do they want now?" Owners, too.
This is NOT to suggest that all players and their representatives are interested in is more money. That would be inaccurate and unfair, just as it would be inaccurate and unfair to suggest that all owners care only about protecting the bottom line. But in the next negotiations over the Collective Bargaining Agreement that expires in 2021 (and spoiler alert, we're in for a nasty bargaining period), there are two areas one hopes the union will address that have nothing to do with salaries and guaranteed money.
One is what happens to a player under suspension. Sadly, this is an area about which the Cowboys know a little too much. Happily, it's already being discussed behind the scenes.
For some suspensions, players aren't allowed to have any contact with their team or be around the facility. This is not universally true.
Damontre' Moore, suspended for substance violations for two games, IS allowed to work out at The Star and be supervised by the strength and conditioning staff and see team doctors, including for mental health. No football activities, but that's okay. He IS suspended, after all.
On the other hand, David Irving, suspended four games for performance-enhancing substances, is banned. Period. Go away, try to stay out of trouble, be smart, don't darken the door.
A kind word for this policy, agreed on by the union, might be "stupid." Wait, did I say that out loud? I meant "counterproductive."
Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett addressed on Monday what a lot of folks think: Young men who do dumb things usually need more structure, not less. More supervision, not more indifference. Doubtless the rule exists because somewhere along the line, some team or teams violated the spirit of the rule and had suspended players in meetings and practices. That absolutely happened with injured reserve violations. So the pendulum swings the other away.
If and when Ezekiel Elliott's suspension starts, do you think it serves him well as a person not to be around people who can help him? Makes no sense, and it says here one of the things the NFLPA should be doing to look after its members is to make sure the troubled ones have access to help. For that matter, an increased emphasis on giving players access to mental health tools wouldn't be such a bad thing in general.
And may we please discuss offseason workouts?
Again, it's a pendulum thing. NFL teams used to abuse their players. The union is there to address that, and they have. They have addressed it by reducing the number of practices, padded and otherwise, teams may conduct. They addressed it by defining what a practice is. They limited the football activities in which players may be forced to engage. But it's gone too far. Instead of "forced to engage," it's now "allowed to engage."
The best strength and conditioning coaches in the sport will tell you that since 2011 when the current CBA went into effect, they have not been able to get their players early enough in the summer to get them in FOOTBALL condition for training camp. Rookies, who probably have spent most of their time since the end of the college season training for combines and pro days and NOT playing football, are particularly at risk.
It is absolutely no coincidence that four of the Cowboys' most important rookies have been sidelined with hamstring issues. Strength coaches and the football staff are constantly working what drills are safe to do when, but it would sure help if the union would let the players get in football condition. In the name of protection, they have swung the pendulum too far.
The NFLPA has done a good job, from this perspective, in prioritizing player safety. Now perhaps it can refine what that means.