An NFL Tragedy Demonstrates Why Management Can’t Be Trusted with Worker Safety
NFL Leadership wanted the Bills-Bengals game to continue after on-field horror. The NFL Players’ Union said no.
The NFL Players Union (logo on football helmet) stepped in when the NFL management wanted to continue the Monday Night Football game after a player experienced cardiac arrest on the field in front of teammates and fans.
Last week's Bills-Bengals NFL Game was suspended after Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field. Hamlin had suffered cardiac arrest after what appeared to be a routine tackle. Horrified fans looked on as medical professions performed CPR and used a defibrillator on Hamlin before rushing him to the hospital.
What happened next left many accusing the NFL of callousness. The devastated players, some of whom were openly sobbing, were given five minutes to “get ready” and get back on the field. The players were not having it. With confused fans still in their seats, the players headed for the locker rooms. Legendary sports journalist Mike Silver summed the situation up as follows: “I've talked to enough people involved, and this is how it went down: The NFL's first impulse was to keep playing. Joe Burrow [the Cincinnati quarterback] was told to warm up. That was the plan. And the players and coaches said 'no' and walked off.”
It later emerged that the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), the union that represents NFL players, spoke with commissioner Roger Goodell and put their foot down. The health and safety of our players comes first, they told NFL leadership. The game was postponed.
To management, workers are part of a cost-profit analysis. To unions, workers are our brothers and sisters.
A tweet by C. M. Lewis, an editor of Strikewave and a union activist, went viral.
The NFL’s initial decision to force players back on the field makes sense from their perspective— canceling games is bad for business. That’s why the NFLPA plays such a vital role in balancing the interests of the players— their health and safety— and standing up to bosses who view them as instruments of profit.
The dynamics between NFL leadership and the NFLPA mirror the dynamics of another occupation where workers put their bodies on the line to do their job: construction. While football is a notoriously brutal sport, construction work is arguably far more dangerous. Each year, an alarming number of construction workers die in New York City alone. And the vast majority of them die on job sites that do not have a union to push back against profit hungry developers and stand up for their safety the way the NFLPA has done for football players.
The stories of workers who succumb to non-union developer negligence are truly shocking and heart wrenching. Some are crushed in trench collapses after contractors failed to install retaining walls. Others are sent on top of skyscraper rooftops during high winds. Others have fallen down unprotected elevator shafts or been crushed by cranes. The sad list goes on and on.
Thankfully Damar Hamlin is recovering. The NFLPA’s actions to put the players first is a heartening reminder of the powerful role unions play. In professions where workers are expected to risk life and limb, not having a union to stand up for the worker’s safety over the bosses’ profits is crazy. Football players would not take the field without the protection of the NFLPA. Construction workers should not have to risk their lives on non-union job sites.
Mark Colangelo is a writer and blogger.
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