A couple of weeks ago, the NFL Players Association re-elected Gene Upshaw as executive director (see AP story). Bryant Gumbel’s dissing of him notwithstanding, NFL players seem to like the combination of labor-management peace and rising salaries. The story also references Upshaw’s stance on player conduct, a stance echoed by many veteran players:
Upshaw’s primary concern recently has been misbehavior off the field by players. He addressed the growing problem before the Super Bowl.
“The last thing I tell every team when I visit is that the only thing that can mess up the collective bargaining agreement is the players themselves,” Upshaw said. “We’re very concerned about that.”
Upshaw has had extensive talks with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell about player behavior and has encouraged the league to strength[en] its player conduct policy.
The stance of Upshaw and leading players on this public relations issue stands in contrast to the foot dragging and hemhawing by Donald Fehr and many MLB player reps on the steroid issue. In that case, player reps like Tom Glavine went so far as to blast players such as Turk Wendell for negative comments about steroid use. What explains the difference?
Maybe fans don’t care as much about the steroid issue. How much they care about either is debatable, but the reaction to Barry Bonds these days suggests that they care some. Right now, fan spending doesn’t seem much influenced by either issue. Upshaw, however, is taking a preemptive stance to head off future problems and leading players are backing him.
The answer that I find most compelling is the likely difference in the number of players involved. Among NFL players, only a small minority engage in off-the-field criminal behavior (unless you’re talking about the Bengals!). Among MLB players, Ken Caminiti estimated 50 percent used illicit drug enhancers while Jose Canseco put the figure much higher. Jason Grimsley‘s statements to investigators (see affidavit) implicates a lot of former teammates. If these figures and statements are anywhere near the truth, then the difference in player views on these two different issues may be as simple as statements of the farmer versus the foxes guarding the hen house.