More Evidence on Why Athletes – and the Rest of us — Need Unions

Ideas and Issues

Ed O'Bannon UCLALittle Rock       Being off-the-grid for a while, it’s surprising how little you miss reading the sports page in July.  I once had a friend who took a vow to not read the sports pages simply to open up more time in his life.  I can’t do that because some of the best and most honest writing that is left in newspapers is in the sports section.   Regardless I didn’t miss much.  No championships were really decided, unless you count golf, which I don’t.  Standings in baseball are whatever they are with lots of time on the calendar.  Who really cares how good a tipper the Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees is?  Ok, well I actually do care about that having represented servers in that city, but you get the point.

            One of the best places for hard hitting, old style labor coverage of the little guys versus the superrich though is still in the sports’ section, making a case that’s hard to miss for people everywhere that whatever your team, you need a union.

            A win on that score was the court ruling the other day against Electronic Arts, the big videogame company, in the case filed by former UCLA player Ed O’Bannon and a bunch of other college athletes.  EA had produced some games using O’Bannon’s likeness; number, UCLA jersey, and so forth without compensating him even one small dime, just rip and run. Oh, yeah, they had thrown something to the NCAA, the college clowns that claim it is ok for them to make billions and leave the players uncompensated.  Anyway the court in a preliminary ruling indicated that EA is likely going to have to pay up.

            Today I read what amounts to an editorial in the sports pages where William Rhoden, a Times sportswriter, made the case that essentially called on baseball’s Major League Players’ Association to get off their duff and file a grievance under their collective bargaining contract to stop the owners and Bud Selig, their whip hand, from bullying up on Alex Rodriguez, regardless of the fact that he’s a bum.  His case was that the union was playing patsy with the bosses in order to con the public that the steroids problem was an individual issue rather than a systematic one. 

            If we had more people urging on unions and calling for unions to step up, frankly, it would help us organize unions.  Too many want to say, as I heard the other day in Missouri that with fewer assembly lines, “who needs unions?”  

Who cares about the scores?   If reading the sports pages is the only place you can still read stories about real fights between workers, albeit often well paid, but sometimes simply ripped off like O’Bannon, and zillionaire bosses that actually take unions seriously, call them to account, and applaud when they do their jobs, then it’s still worth reading everyday in order to understand something about workers and their issues, especially since those issues are not the daily fare in any other part of the news.