The NFL Needs to Answer for the Fournette Situation

Recent moves by the NFL are leaving us with many unanswered questions and concerns. Plus, big developments for pro athletes across the board.

Good morning. It’s Tuesday Jan. 8, and welcome to “The Labor Beat,” your weekly breakdown of the biggest stories from the world of collective bargaining and labor disputes in sports. Send tips, exclusives, or suggestions to [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter at @grandstcentral and @al_neal_stl

Another NFL grievance on its way:

The Jacksonville Jaguars notified running back Leonard Fournette they were voiding the remaining salary guarantees in his four-year rookie contract, after his December 2018 one-game suspension for an on-field fight Nov. 25, 2018.

Under the current NFL-NFLPA collective bargaining agreement (CBA), conduct detrimental to the club—fighting in this case—will see players fined a maximum amount equal to one week’s salary, or suspension without pay not to exceed four weeks.

Of course, everything will depend on the language in Fournette’s contract. But, just by looking at the union contract’s discipline policy, the termination of salary guarantees seems extreme.

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If Fournette loses his grievance appeal, the Jaguars would be able to cut him without experiencing any future financial obligations. It would also make trading him more lucrative for other teams given the reduced financial risk.

NFL hiring and firing practices under scrutiny:

Following the leagues recent updates to strengthen its standards on a rule for interviewing minority candidates for head coaching jobs—the Rooney Rule, five of the eight head coaches fired since midway through regular season are African American. Leaving only three minority coaches league-wide.

The new Rooney Rule standards seem to be a calculated response to accusations that teams were circumventing the rule by interviewing minority candidates not seen to be legitimate contenders for the job.

Opt out or stay in?

The NHL Players Association and NHL are scheduled to meet in Las Vegas this week to discuss the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) as reported by Hockey Night in CanadaSaturday. Both sides will sit down to discuss next steps for CBA negotiations with the current agreement set to expire in September. A primary topic of discussion will be the NHLPA’s possible offer to extend the lifetime of the current agreement.

“Now I’m starting to hear, perhaps, in the next two weeks that the NHL Players’ Association could even table an offer to Gary Bettman and the owners to even extend the CBA,” said Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos. “And, of course, the players know at this point that there’s a lot of things that they won’t get back, but they do have a wish list and one of those things on the wish list is to alleviate some of the financial burden of escrow.”

Cuban beisbol players say goodbye to perilous journeys for MLB:

Major League Baseball, its players’ association (union), and the Cuban Baseball Federation reached an agreement allowing players from the island to sign big league contracts without having to defect.

The agreement, like rules found for players under contract in Japan and South Korea, runs through Oct. 31, 2021—expiring around the same time as the MLB-MLBPA’s union contract.

“Words cannot fully express my heartfelt joy and excitement in learning that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark have reached an agreement with the Cuban Baseball Federation. Knowing that the next generation of Cuban baseball players will not endure the unimaginable fate of past Cuban players is the realization of an impossible dream for all of us,” said Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu.

No longer punished for having kids:

The Women’s Tennis Association approved changes to ensure players are not penalized after returning from pregnancy or an injury causing a long absence. These changes were brought about, in part, by former No. 1 ranked players Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka’s experiences after returning to competition from maternity leave.

Under the new Special Ranking Rule, “If a player is out of competition due to pregnancy or a medical condition, she is allowed 3 years to use her special ranking. In the event of pregnancy, the time period is calculated from the birth of the child.”

Azarenka, a member of the WTA Players’ Council, said she wants to make sure the WTA is “the most progressive and inclusive association in sports.”

That’s all from the Labor Beat. 

Al Neal
Al Neal
Al Neal is an award-winning columnist at Grandstand Central writing on politics, labor relations, and the general rabble-rousing in professional sports. He spent a decade working in the trade union movement with various locals across the country and currently serves as Dir. of Education and Advocacy for the St. Louis Workers’ Education Society.


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