We're barely into this pro football season and players are already looking to the start of the next one, hoping to avoid an income-losing owner lockout. In an aggressive bid to protect their interests and keep the game going next year, players are turning for help to an unfamiliar playing field: the halls of Congress. For months, they've been meeting with House and Senate members, emphasizing that a lockout would have far-reaching consequences. "This lockout is not just about players and owners. It's about fans, businesses, and people that work to support our game," says players' rep and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. "The players will stand up for what's right and continue to push for a fair deal for everyone," he tells Whispers.
So how does Congress play a role in changing what looks like a sure trip to a lockout over contract issues such as the owners' demand for two more games and a cut in revenue to players? The NFL Players Association says that a lockout would mean the loss of thousands of jobs around the nation's NFL stadiums and training facilities. In small-market Buffalo alone, a 2009 review by the city shows that a full-season lockout could cost the city $140 million and thousands of jobs, a huge issue in a down economy. The players are lobbying Congress for hearings on the impact of a lockout on local economies.
They are also seeking separate hearings into the antitrust exemption Congress gives the NFL on exclusive TV deals with the networks. At issue is a new deal the teams made with DirecTV, Fox, CBS, and NBC that will guarantee income to the owners in a lockout, while players receive nothing. "It appears that the owners bought a strategy to lock players and fans out and nonetheless financially protect themselves," chirps Baltimore Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth, a member of the players association's executive committee.
So far, despite trips by players and their wives to Capitol Hill, congressional response has been lukewarm. But the association believes interest will grow and Congress will help, especially when word spreads of the possibility of no Indianapolis Super Bowl in a presidential election year.