Q & A : ED GARVEY : Former director of the National Football League Players Assn. : Major Changes Seen for Pro Football on TV : Another NFL Strike Can Be Avoided, Trend to Pay Cable Can't, Lawyer Says

Times Staff Writer

The two most pressing questions facing the National Football League and its fans are in the areas of labor relations and television:

--Will there be another strike this summer after the expiration of the league's collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Assn.?

--And now that cable television has a foot in pro football's doorway, will pay TV follow, replacing network TV in the NFL's next television contract?

The answers are no and yes, respectively, in the view of the man who helped the players build their union, Ed Garvey.

Now teaching law at the University of Wisconsin and practicing in Madison, Garvey, 46, said Monday: "The league learned (during the nine-game strike) in 1982 that the players are reasonable but determined.

"They will strike if necessary to back up a position.

"That, I think, will keep everyone at the table this time until there's a settlement without a strike."

The TV issue is more complex, said Garvey, who spent 12 years as the NFLPA's first executive director. He resigned in 1982 to take an active role in Wisconsin politics, and won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate last year. He lost in November.

"Television is changing drastically these days," he said.

"The networks couldn't afford to buy the whole (NFL) package this time, when they gave up Sunday nights to cable. And in 1990 (when the contract comes up for negotiation again), the networks will be in even worse shape.

"These are the last three years that you'll see NFL games free on network television. After this, it's pay cable."

Question: Why would the NFL give up on free television after more than 30 years with the networks?

Answer: The networks are fast disappearing from the scene. The (retrenchment) at CBS News this year is just a forerunner of what's coming throughout CBS and at all the networks. They won't be able to afford the NFL next time.

Q: In pro football terms, is cable TV progressing that fast?

A: What's happening is that the NFL's demand, or need, for more money is going up at the same time that network ability to pay is going down. Five years or so along the road, no one will even think of putting a pro football game on a network.

Q: That's sad for the fans who have been seeing one or two free games every Sunday.

A: I don't like it, either, but everything changes, and it's hard to fight new technology and new economics. The networks are being squeezed from all sides.

First, they are all under new ownerships that are intensely profit-oriented. Second, the local stations keep getting stronger, technologically and economically, at the expense of the networks. And, third, cable TV, which already covers 43% of the country, keeps gaining.

Q: Will the NFL players get their share of the new television revenue?

A: I'd say there's no doubt about it. (In 1970-82) we created a union that now has considerable strength. I only played a part, but I'm proud of the part I played in building the (union) from scratch.

Q: You struck the NFL for 57 days in 1982. Who won?

A: Both sides won and lost. The thing (the union) won was the respect of the owners. We showed that when they wouldn't sit down and negotiate, we could shut down the league--and not have to see replacement players come in and play our game. As a result of all that, the (NFLPA) will be dealing from strength this year.

Q: Do you regret calling a strike that disrupted things for nine weeks?

A: We didn't have a choice. Management wouldn't negotiate with us. They sent over a Management Council man (Jack Donlan) who isn't an owner, and couldn't speak for the owners. (Two months) later, they finally sent an owner, Dan Rooney of Pittsburgh, and the settlement came soon after that.

Q: Is Rooney on the league's negotiating team this year?

A: It will be good for everybody if he is. Rooney believes in working things out.

Q: At the bargaining table this year, the NFLPA is going for baseball's kind of free agency. Will that work?

A: We didn't think so (in 1982). We were surprised that it worked in baseball--for a while--and we felt it would have even less chance in pro football, where the owners share revenues equally.

Q: So why are NFL players trying for free agency now?

A: Gene Upshaw (Garvey's successor as executive director) has come up with a creative solution. His plan is for the NFL to use some of the money they've been (sharing) to pay big bonuses to the owners who make the playoffs. That would give every team an incentive to sign free agents. It's a plan that will work, in my opinion.

Q: You tried for 55% of the gross in the 1982 strike. Would that plan have worked?

A: Sure. It's working now in the NBA, which decided on 53% of the gross for the players. A percentage arrangement would be successful in any labor-intensive industry, particularly in entertainment or sports, where revenues can vary a great deal from one year to the next.

Q: As a goal this year, why has the NFLPA abandoned percentage of the gross?

A: The people who oppose it have managed to make it look like a wacky idea. Judging by our mail, most fans think it's wacky. The players took so much heat for making it an issue in 1982 that they're reluctant to stick their necks out again. And I don't blame them. It takes a lot of guts to fight for something that may be right, but ambiguous.

Q: How did the NBA come to it?

A: I've concluded that it takes an enlightened commissioner to push through something that sounds as off-beat as percentage of the gross--and the NBA had such a leader, Larry O'Brien. David Stern also believes in it.

Q: Why are so many of the agents who represent football players against it?

A: They wouldn't be needed to negotiate contracts. The 55%, or whatever, would be put into a pot, and every player would get the same base wage, based on seniority. Performance would also be rewarded. There would be bonuses for team MVP and many other accomplishments. But we wouldn't have any more first-round millionaires. Everyone drafted on the first round gets the same base wage.

Q: Isn't this plan socialistic?

A: This is what the (NFL) owners do with their money. It's as socialistic as they are. The owners share their revenues evenly. For instance, Buffalo and the Rams get the same amount of money from the Super Bowl, regardless of their records. Every year, teams with the worst records in pro football make as much as the winners.

Q: What's the reasoning behind the NFL's sharing policy?

A: The owners think it stabilizes the league, and I agree with them there. By the same token, player revenue sharing would also help bring about stability. The only other thing you need is a just, intelligent performance-bonus system--for players and owners both.

Q: After advocating such things for so many years as a labor leader, are you glad to be back in Wisconsin and out of the line of fire?

A: I like it here, but I liked it there, too. The thing is, I never intended to stay with the (NFLPA) for more than two or three years. After 12 years, I felt I had accomplished everything I could. Besides, I'd become the center of management's hatred. I thought it would be healthier for the (NFLPA) to get another guy (as executive director).

Q: Did you choose right when you chose to return to Wisconsin?

A: Yes. I'm very fond of this state. I'm fond of the people, their attitude. For example, they take pride in their university, and in clean government. This is a progressive state. You can solve problems here, and do it humanely.

Q: Will you be running for the Senate again?

A: Conceivably. It depends on what happens, who's up and who's down. Politics is a nice way to get your point of view across. But fund raising is so obnoxious that it doesn't encourage you to stay in politics. Campaigning for funds is even worse than losing a strike.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
64°