The NFL Players Assn. has informed the league that it plans to disband because of a court decision upholding the NFL's free agency system and invalidating the union's antitrust suit.
John Jones, a spokesman for the NFL Management Council, confirmed that the council had received a letter from Gene Upshaw, the NFLPA's executive director, stating the union's intention.
Doug Allen, the union's assistant executive director, confirmed that a letter was sent, as reported today by the Boston Globe.
The U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled that NFL owners were not in violation of antitrust laws simply because of an impasse in negotiations between the union and management. In effect, that 2-1 decision negated the union's antitrust suit against the league, filed at the conclusion of its unsuccessful strike two years ago.
On the day of the decision, the union said it was considering either appealing to the full nine-judge panel or the U.S. Supreme Court. It also suggested that it would consider decertification.
"The NFLPA Executive Committee has voted to abandon bargaining rights and begin the decertification process," the letter said. "This action was made necessary by the Eighth Circuit's decision, which purports to extend the NFLPA's labor exemption to your illegal activities.
"We did not form our union to allow you to illegally restrain trade in the market for player services. The players would rather protect their rights as independent contractors than to subject themselves to the monopolistic whims of the NFL and its clubs."
The players reportedly have to vote on the union's decertification. The union assumes, the Globe said, that once decertification is complete, every player would become a free agent at the end of his present contract, rendering as illegal the college draft, the waiver system and the Plan B form of free agency.
However, Jones said that as far as management is concerned, all the NFL's contract rules would remain in effect, just as they do for any other business.
Jack Donlan, executive director of the Management Council, told the Globe the owners would "have to wait to see how genuine" the decertification move is.
"Are they saying this is some new kind of strategy, or do they really mean it?" Donlan said. "Either way, we will find a way to deal with it.
"None of us would like to see the union go out of business," Donlan said. "They certainly wouldn't be doing what is right for their players, who would lose all of their benefits."
If the union folds, the newspaper said, the players would lose about $50,000 a year in health and life insurance and pension benefits.