Even Millionaire Workers Like Tom Brady Need Solidarity

President Obama’s at a labor breakfast in Boston today. He offered this message.

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Clearly, the President is pandering to his audience. Bostoners like Brady, unlike much of the country.

But it’s an important point, one which has been missing from a lot of the coverage of DeflateGate. Brady will play on Thursday not just because he had better lawyers than the NFL, nor because Roger Goodell is a douchebag who’s not even competent at being a tyrant, but also because he’s a member of a union that had negotiated certain rules with the bosses, one of which was that certain kinds of violations get treated a certain way (in this case, that equipment violations involve a team fine, but no suspensions).

Mind you, I keep wondering why the NFL, after having been embarrassed with the BountyGate, Ray Rice, and Adrian Peterson disciplinary procedures, would adopt an even more abusive approach with Brady, when they were dealing with an alleged crime that wasn’t even as serious or as politically unpopular as the others (setting aside how much most people hate the Pats, of course). It’s possible they did so because they got so far ahead of themselves when they launched an investigation — and leaked highly derogatory and false information — in response to rumors about overinflated balls that they were left with no choice but to double down. But partly, the serial leaks feel like part of the plan here. In which case, I think it at least possible the NFL went after Brady so hard because he has always been active in the Players Association, and was the named plaintiff in 2011 when the players sued the NFL on anti-trust grounds.

Tom Brady may look like a hero, a badass quarterback, or a cheat to fans (depending on whom you’re asking), but maybe to every owner not named Kraft, he looks like a union rabble rouser?

I don’t know the answer to that, but as the league appeals Judge Berman’s ruling, I hope some people ask whether the NFL is just acting so stupid because they are that stupid, or whether there’s something more going on.

In any case, the President may have been pandering. But his point is sound. If even millionaire workers like Tom Brady need a union — need solidarity with other workers to achieve some measure of justice — then we all probably could use more of it.

Happy Labor Day! Go Patriots!

Update: As a number of people are noting, the NFL released a graphic asking which QB will be in next year’s Super Bowl that left the reining champ off.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. bloopie2 says:

    I don’t see either evil intent or total stupidity here. I think that the owners have for a long time allowed their Commissioner free rein because they ended up better with the results than without. Just as most employers will hire an employee for a job, then cut the employee loose to do her job; you can’t control everything she does, you have to delegate. Eventually the employee screws up or goes too far, and then you have to address it. Sometimes you talk to her and move on, sometimes you need to do more; for example, they may form some kind of subcommittee to oversee and approve future disciplinary actions in a well-ordered manner. Or, maybe I’m naive about all this.
    .
    As an aside, do the team grunts (the ones who allegedly did the dirty work here, of which Tom was supposedly “generally aware”), have a union?

    As a further aside, to me the word “pandering” has a negative connotation, even though not all the dictionary definitions I see support that. Am I in the minority on that? I guess the real question is, were you intending to criticize Obama, by using that word rather than a phrase like “courting his natural voter base”?

    • emptywheel says:

      I don’t believe they have a union.

      And not sure if you saw Brady’s comments yesterday, but he’s aware they’ve been fucked. Not that he can do anything about it, bc it would just be “proof” they’ve been bought off.

  2. Saul Tannenbaum says:

    Don’t forget that the NFLPA negotiated the collective bargaining agreement that gave the NFL commissioner the right to be the appellate authority in his own decisions. Their excuse, and I’ve heard an NFLPA attorney say this when confronted by a player’s attorney, is that they were so busy keeping the owners from pocketing more money, they didn’t pay a lot of attention to this. Lawyers who work for NFL players defending them from NFL charges (as opposed to NFLPA attorneys) are enraged that this part of the contract made it past NFLPA vetting.

    (I’m in the vast minority in Boston who think the real violation here is Tom Brady’s self-admitted failure to fully cooperate with the investigation. You really can’t have the subject of a cheating investigation decide the limits of his own cooperation. I don’t think that’s something to celebrate, even if it was part of a union victory.)

    • emptywheel says:

      I get your point on the cooperation point — and I actually think Brady’s explanation for his phone destruction was shittier than any coverage made out (because he kept one phone, and his explanations that he wanted to get an iPhone 6 make no temporal sense).

      That said, I do get that whatever he did would have been dangerous precedent (one the league would not reciprocate with, as in the Rice case). And I also at least get that someone whose family has the profile it does could not trust promises of secrecy from the league.

      If NFL’s VP weren’t part of the investigative team? If they hadn’t leaked the false 11 deflated football story and hadn’t overblown whether they had the comms in question? I might be more critical. But the NFL didn’t do the things to reassure Brady that any personal dirt on his phone (maybe pics from hanging out with Affleck and his nanny?) wouldn’t end up in the NY Post.

  3. orionATL says:

    “NFL nation” my ass.

    i have loved football above all other sports all my life. when i was a 10 yr old i used to walk to the library on mondays and copy college (this was long before “university inflation” started) team scores out of a bunch of newspapers on wooden rods. and not just the scores of the teams from the local state college conference. i actually knew there was a conference with a slippery rock state football team without any idea where the place actually was.

    i loved the packers as a child living a thousand miles away. i feel in love with the redskins when i ended up in washington. i have supported the local team (against my better judgement). but all that was in a time when teams were players who mostly stayed together for a while and when management didn’t seem so focused on money and so determined to make the periphery of the game into a mawkish, tawdry medieval festival.

    i am tired of professional football as its is packaged and presented to me today.

    it’s no longer primarily a sport, a competition. it is primarily a business which happens to have sports aspect. look how many column inches (equivalent) are devoted to trading, drafting, misbehavior, salary coups, contracts, new stadiums and team moves, grading the offensive line, who tore their acl, the stupid smoke out of the tunnel caper, the free military recruitment, and the pink tutus – every goddamned gossipy, sentimental thing but the conflict on the field – which is really all that’s fun and all that really counts with me.

    NFL nation my ass.

  4. Bitter Angry Drunk says:

    Some of the NFL’s ire toward Brady could be a result of his union activity — remember Scott Fujita getting punished for his non-role in the earlier bullshit sideshow involving the New Orleans Saints — but I suspect there’s a simpler reason. Pro sports has a long history of kneecapping players who are active in players unions. But… remember when Goodell’s good buddy Robert Kraft came out and said he’d accept the punishment? I have to think Brady challenging and blowing up that deal — when the league had an arrangement with Kraft that would placate the other NFL owners who hate Kraft, the Patriots and Kraft’s chummy relationship with Goodell — is the larger factor here.

    Roger Goodell answers to NFL owners, and no one else. Always keep that in mind.

  5. scribe says:

    Don’t forget:
    1. Drew Brees was also one of the named plaintiffs in the antitrust suit the players brought during the last CBA iteration. That was the one which, as an excellent profile of King Roger the Clown [ https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/redskins/how-roger-goodell-became-the-most-powerful-man-in-american-sports/2015/09/02/3eb69baa-50d8-11e5-9812-92d5948a40f8_story.html ] revealed, his face would turn red with rage in negotiations:

    Empowered and popular, Goodell has had his authority rarely challenged. He had reached a mountaintop he’d pursued for more than two decades. But at some point, scandals and the NFL’s occasionally bizarre reaction to them — player concussions, the Patriots’ videotaping controversy, the 2011 player lockout, the Saints’ alleged bounty program, a lockout of game officials, a series of domestic violence cases punctuated by an incident involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice — led the proactive, approachable commissioner to give way to a man frequently in a defensive posture, scrambling to project a league in control.

    “All the owners are looking at him,” one former team executive said, and after Judge Richard Berman’s ruling in favor of Brady on Thursday, owners might be looking more closely than ever at Goodell’s next move.

    If a proposal was rejected or a decision skirted, Goodell’s default response by 2011 was to hunker down — or to explode. During collective bargaining negotiations with the NFL Players Association in 2011, Goodell’s face turned red so often that union representatives often spent mornings predicting which of the day’s topics would send the commissioner over the edge.

    “That’s what I remember: ‘I bet he’s going to turn red when he hears this,’ ” said a former NFL player who was involved in the discussions. A few times, the former player said, Goodell would storm out of the meeting room, leaving a few franchise owners — often Kraft, Richardson and Jones — to resume negotiations while Goodell cooled off.

    I think if we timeline this out, we’ll all agree that there is a pattern.
    season, super bowl, champion
    events
    08-09 43 steelers
    James Harrison DPOY, Super Bowl winning TD

    09-10 44 saints
    Harrison fined repeatedly for playing defense

    10-11 45 packers
    League locks out players.
    CBA negotiations – King Roger blowing his stack in negotiations.
    Union decertifies.
    Brady, Brees and Peyton Manning sue for antitrust violations
    Steelers players only team to vote against CBA on Player Rep Clark’s advice, also in light of treatment of Harrison.

    11-12 46 giants
    Bountygate erupts against Saints, 2011-12 season ruined by King Roger’s suspensions, later vacated.

    12-13 47 ravens

    13-14 48 seahawks
    Ray Rice DV scandal.

    14-15 49 patsies
    Deflategate

    Worth sussing out…. but, yeah, King Roger is using the league to punish those who dare to oppose him.

  6. Denis says:

    MW: ” Brady will play on Thursday not just because he had better lawyers than the NFL, nor because Roger Goodell is a douchebag who’s not even competent at being a tyrant, but also because. . .”
    .
    It’s all a matter of viewpoint, of course, but I would have written that clause this way:
    .
    “Brady will play on Thursday not just because he had better lawyers than the NFL, nor because he destroyed the evidence of his cheating by destroying his cell phone (which was more than sufficient to prove he is the cheating scumball the NFL claims he is), but also because . . .”
    .
    Regardless of what the arbitrators or the courts say, the country now sees this prick for what he is. Should be an interesting season for the NFL faux-champions, espc when they play the Colts.

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