NFL quarterbacks don’t do teachers any favors
By Jeffrey Goldfarb
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
American football’s quarterbacks aren’t doing the nation’s teachers any favors. Public sector unions, like those representing educators, are under fire from state governors and taxpayers. At the same time, professional football players are embroiled in their own peculiar labor battle. There’s not much common ground, but the popularity of the gridiron millionaires creates an odd contrast.
The National Football League Players Association dissolved itself as a union last Friday so some of its members could file a lawsuit claiming the league is acting unfairly as a monopoly. This happened on the same day Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, home to the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, signed into law broad new limits on the collective bargaining rights of state workers.
The athletes on average earn nearly $2 million a year, or roughly 25 times more than the educators, and can’t really claim the same societal value. Yet some 35 percent of those polled by Seton Hall University backed the NFL players with only 22 percent supporting the owners — while a Quinnipiac University poll found more respondents supported Walker’s plan than the union workers it weakens.
The model-dating footballers are even fighting for some of the same rights. They want higher wages for younger players and better pensions for older ones. And they don’t want to add to the battering they receive by increasing the number of games each season.
The economics of each situation may help explain the paradox. Though the NFL players are millionaires and receive 60 percent of the league’s $9.3 billion of revenue, they are pitted against team owners with an average net worth of $1.4 billion apiece, according to Sports Illustrated. That makes it easy to see the owners as the bad guys. As for the public sector unions, the hard times that have befallen the country make their pricey pension and health plans easy targets for envious private-sector workers.
Despite their professed admiration for teachers, it seems Americans still look up to their sports heroes even more. Perhaps that’s because athletes labor in a fairly pure meritocracy while many unions representing teachers cling to a system that all but guarantees jobs to even the worst performers. Or maybe teachers simply need a famous, buff and telegenic celebrity to represent them — not just a shop steward.