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NFL Players Still Have Big Card To Play

Publication Date: 
March 08, 2011
The Baltimore Sun
Ken Murray

Professor William B. Gould spoke to Ken Murray of the Baltimore sun about the NFL Players Association's "ultimate weapon" in its labor negotiations with the NFL. Here is the story:

Decertification hangs over NFL labor negotiations like an anvil.

In its brief but illustrious history in pro football, decertification was the wild-card strategy that brought free agency to the players in 1992 after a three-year court battle against the owners.

Now it is the fall-back position for the NFL Players Association if — when? — negotiations with the league fail to yield a new collective bargaining agreement.

Whether it is enough to ensure another union victory for the players is another matter, however.


William B. Gould, professor emeritus at Stanford Law School and former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, described decertification as "the only game in town for the union."

"It is the ultimate weapon," Gould said. "They have to have that in reserve because … you can get damages, treble damages and injunctive relief pretty quickly sometimes."

But even Gould said that decertifying was no guarantee of success in the courts.

"By decertifying, there's enormous expense and difficulty," he said. "You're staring into this abyss, you don't know how far this is going to play out."


In his former role with the NLRB, Gould got a temporary injunction from then federal-district court judge — and now Supreme Court Judge — Sonia Sotomayor that ended baseball's strike of 1994-95.

Gould said the players have the most to lose in these negotiations because of the short-term nature of NFL careers.

"For the players, it's now or never," he said. "You're talking about seniority that is three or four years, and for some of these guys, less than that. A lot of players will play three-, five-, 10-more years, but a lot of guys will only play two years. So … this [contract] won't do anything for them.

"Right now, I think the union has the most pressure, primarily because of that. The big pressure the owners have is antitrust, the prospect of that. Both sides have weapons that are formidable, that could really hurt each other. But I think this is going to resolve itself because there's just too much money here."