Kommissar Goodell of the People's Republic of Football

America's sport is dominated by an oligarchy of capitalist plutocrats who behave like socialists. I can't decide whether that's odd or appropriate. It was a point driven home to me today by Roger Goodell's WSJ op-ed: In the union lawyers' world, every player would enter the league as an unrestricted free agent, an independent contractor free to sell his services to any team. Every player would again become an unrestricted free agent each time his contract expired. And each team would be free to spend as much or as little as it wanted on player payroll or on an individual player's compensation. Any league-wide rule relating to terms of player employment would be subject to antitrust challenge in courts throughout the country. Any player could sue-on his own behalf or representing a class-to challenge any league rule that he believes unreasonably restricts the "market" for his services. … No minimum team payroll. Some teams could have $200 million payrolls while others spend $50 million or less. In other words, football would have to behave like any other business in a free market system. A free market, of course, is precisely what Goodell fears most. In his own words: A league where the competitive ability of teams in smaller communities (Buffalo, New Orleans, Green Bay and others) is forever cast into doubt by blind adherence to free-market principles that favor teams in larger, better-situated markets? Welcome to the free world, Kommissar Goodell. You've gotten away for decades with running a quasi-socialist cartel in which the owners share revenues without competition and the workers are exploited until they outlive their usefulness, at which point they are discarded, often with life-threatening injuries and illnesses. A dose of free market competition would do you good. As Milton Friedman once observed, "The economic miracle that has been the United States was not produced by socialized enterprises, by government-unon-industry cartels or by centralized economic planning. It was produced by private enterprises in a profit-and-loss system." Give it a try. Turning from the abstract to the practical for a moment, by the way, I must take issue with something else the Kommissar said: For many years, the collectively bargained system-which has given the players union enhanced free agency and capped the amount that owners spend on salaries-has worked enormously well for the NFL, for NFL players, and for NFL fans…. For clubs and fans, the trade-off afforded each team a genuine opportunity to compete for the Super Bowl, greater cost certainty, and incentives to invest in the game. Those incentives translated into two dozen new and renovated stadiums and technological innovations such as the NFL Network and nfl.com. It was the owners, not the players, who opted out of the collective bargaining agreement. If that agreement had worked so well, why did you opt out of it? "Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself."–Milton Friedman

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