Marvin Miller’s passing has left behind an incredible sports legacy, hall-of-fame travesty, and a modern-day relevancy. Whether the issue is yearly owner lockouts, their lawyers intent on destroying sports, or unpaid labor exploited by the NCAA, Marvin Miller’s spirit and skills are sorely needed across and beyond sports.
With last week’s historical strike of Walmart employees, and this week’s related Bangladesh garment factory fire killing 112 employees, his union legacy and organizing lessons transcend sports. Excerpts from the following seven posts address Marvin Miller’s relevancy to current sports struggles beyond baseball.
NCAA: College Sports Desperately Needs A Game Changer Like Marvin Miller, Michael Rosenberg Sports Illustrated
We need another Marvin Miller.
We need one for college athletes.
We need a man with Miller’s vision, passion, political acumen and intelligence to change the NCAA’s antiquated amateurism rules.
And you know what? Miller knew it…
“It’s obviously inequitable,” Miller told me at the time. “It reminds me of the old days in baseball, except major league coaches and managers were as much discriminated against as the players. Apparently, not so here. Here, it’s just the players.”
The NCAA argues that it can’t pay football and men’s basketball players because it needs to give scholarships to non-revenue sport athletes. But Miller said: “It’s a very poor argument on their part, that they can exploit one group to pay another. They’ve got even greater power to discriminate than the government does.”
We need another Miller.
NHL: Marvin Miller… had a lasting effect on NHLPA head Don Fehr, Nicholas J. Cotsonika, Yahoo Sports
Fehr: “Marvin Miller began the process in baseball of making sure that the constituents – the members, the players – were involved in the bargaining and were present during the meetings. And he did that because, first of all, they have a right to be there.
“There’s nothing like the education you get listening to the actual exchanges rather than somebody summarizing the exchanges sometime later on. Players will very often pick up issues that staff won’t, because they’re out there on the ice, and in my case now, that’s even more likely because I don’t have a longtime hockey background.
“You can make compromises, you can make counterproposals, and it’s really, really important. So when we came in, one of the things that I started talking to players about was how important it is for them to be informed, for them to talk to one another, and to participate in the process. And that means, among other things, being physically at the table and in the bargaining.”
NFL: Free Agency Pioneer Meant A Lot to Football Too, Doug Farrar, Shutdown Corner, Yahoo Sports
Miller never worked for the NFLPA, but the NFLPA was emboldened by his example. Football had its first organized preseason walkout in 1970, and the NFL was forced to accept free agency and a more equitable economy for its players as the tides turned. When his official tenure in baseball ended in 1982, Miller kept a sharp eye on all sports and their working conditions, and he had a lot to say about the NFL’s 2011 lockout.
“I would go on the offensive,” Miller told Bloomberg News from his Manhattan apartment in February 2011, a month before the owners locked the players out. “I would demand the end of the salary cap now and in the future and go from there. You’ve got to show the owners you mean it. I’d follow it immediately with a series of meetings with players to work out their demands for changes in their contracts. And I’d serve them to the owners. I’d show them you’re not kidding.”
A great deal was made last week of the NBA’s Lebron James and his move to the Miami Heat. Leaving aside the questionable way it was handled, the move itself was made possible by the actions of Curt Flood and Marvin Miller, pictured above, without question the two most important and significant people in the history of sports economics. Flood became a very important figure in sports history when he refused to accept a trade in 1969. …
Flood took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Among those testifying on Flood’s behalf were former players Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg, and owner Bill Veeck. Flood had unanimous support from player representatives. Flood likened himself to “a well-paid slave.” The Supreme Court acting on “stare decisis“, meaning “to stand by things decided”, ruled 5-3 in favor of Major League Baseball, upholding an archaic 1922 case. But, “the baseballs were out of the bag.”
FANS?: What if Fans Had a Union Leader Like Marvin Miller? Thoughts on a Legend, Sportfans.org
What if Miller fought so fans didn’t have to be tied to one (terrible) owner? Could Miller have ended the NFL’s prohibition on public ownership or prevented teams from holding their cities hostage by threatening to move without a new stadium? Could Miller have eliminated blackouts once and for all? Miller also worked to collectively negotiate licensing and marketing deals on behalf of players. What if fans were the ones doing the marketing instead of being marketed to?
Players made a lot of short-term sacrifices by striking with Miller over the years in order to win long-term gains. Are fans willing to do the same?
Will fans ever have their own “Moses” to free them from having to endure the whims, abuses and threats of sports team owners? We certainly hope so.
Lion of American Labor: A final conversation with Marvin Miller, David A. Kaplan, CNN
“We live in an economy where we’re taught that jobs are created by industry and commerce. But the fact of the matter is they don’t always create jobs. When the face tough times, they cut jobs…
The corollary to this you can’t keep believing that government over-regulates industry and commerce. They under-regulate it because when times are tough, it must be government that produces the incentive for jobs. We need more firemen, more teachers, and people to repair the Brooklyn Bridge. No company will do this.”
‘The Labor Movement Never Stands Still’: An Interview With Marvin Miller (1917–2012), Dave Zirin, The Nation
“I have seen good conditions go bad. I think in labor management relations there is no such thing as standing still. You either move foreword or you go back. There is no standing still. Are salaries wonderful? Yeah, but we must remember that it is unity and solidarity and the struggles of the past that made them successful. There is no guarantee that this will continue. And without a union as successful as it has been, I would predict a downward spiral. The labor movement never stands still.”
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