NFL Players’ Injuries Aren’t the Only Terrible Aspect of Their Working Conditions

The National Football League Players Association just released team report cards. From petty payroll deductions to rat infestations, conditions for NFL players are surprisingly bad — an indictment on the greed and incompetence of billionaire team owners.

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray in the endzone at State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona, September 20, 2020. The Cardinals were the worst-ranked team in the NFLPA’s recent report on player treatment. (All-Pro Reels Photography / Flickr)

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the union representing professional American football players, released team report cards based on surveys completed by over 1,300 players. The reports covered a comprehensive list of seven factors that affect a player’s daily life: treatment of families, weight room, nutrition, strength staff, training staff, locker room, and travel.

Surely the wealthiest sports league in the country would be able to provide the absolute best for its players in all these categories, right? Think again.

The surveys revealed widespread dissatisfaction among NFL players and even some shockingly bad conditions. Players across teams consistently complained about the poor quality of their locker rooms, training rooms, and other essential facilities. Players also report feeling that the league disrespects them and their families in both blatant and subtle ways. For example, fourteen teams do not offer a family room, and eleven teams do not have day care facilities.

Most teams were satisfied with the people on training staff, which suggests that most of the problems stem not from personnel issues but from a lack of basic investment by billionaire team owners.

Let’s start with the worst-ranked team, the Arizona Cardinals. The team neither offers a family room or day care, and that’s not all. It’s the only team in the league that charges players for dinner from the cafeteria via payroll deduction. While of course these professional athletes can afford it, this practice seems absurdly petty given that the team has a net worth of over $3 billion.

One would assume that, if anything, teams would invest in weight rooms so that players can be in the best physical shape possible to perform. But in the Cardinals’ weight room, the floors are uneven and peeling up. According to the NFLPA, “Players describe it as a safety risk just to walk through the weight room.”

Some of the reports are unsanitary and simply gross. Jacksonville Jaguars players reported that for a month last season there was a rat infestation in the locker room and laundry hampers. Meanwhile, due to their lack of a family room, some players’ wives had to nurse their babies on the floor of a public restroom.

In the Los Angeles Chargers’ locker room, players complained about a lack of maintenance for the hot and cold tubs. Due to a limited number of showers, players have to wait for a long time to get clean after games and workouts.

A particularly surprising report came out of the Kansas City Chiefs, who won the Super Bowl title in February. Multiple players complained about unfair treatment from their head trainer and revealed that they are afraid to report their injuries and speak up for better care.

Nutrition to maximize performance is another basic commitment one assumes teams would make — but even this is a problem. Players from the Indianapolis Colts claim that they often bring their own lunch because the food is so bad.

The Cincinnati Bengals do not offer dinner, vitamins, or supplements to their players. While they are encouraged to come in on their days off to train, the NFLPA reports that “the cafeteria is not open on those days, so players can’t even grab a banana before working out.”

Clearly, NFL players make more money than most working people could ever dream of, and perhaps don’t make for the most sympathetic group of workers. But what makes these revelations particularly appalling is their juxtaposition to the extreme amounts of wealth going straight into team owners’ pockets.

NFL teams have a net worth ranging from $3 billion to $8 billion. They generate most of this money from television arrangements, but also things like ticket revenues, merchandise sales, and endorsement deals. The immense popularity of the sport has catapulted NFL team owners into the realm of oligarchs.

The NFL owner with the lowest net worth is Mike Brown of the Cincinnati Bengals, with a mere $925 million. Every other owner is a billionaire. The wealthiest is Walton family heir Rob Walton, who now owns the Denver Broncos and has a staggering $59 billion.

This wealth of these owners is not tied to their teams’ success on the field. Jerry Jones, for example, has a net worth of $13.6 billion despite the fact that his Dallas Cowboys have not made it to the Superbowl since 1996.

With such incredible wealth sloshing around the league, it is inexcusable that these fundamental problems exist in so many franchises. The scores of fans who watch football in the stands and on TV are clearly not there for the wealthy bozo owners sitting in their upper-level booths. They come to see the amazing talents of the players, and it is those players who generate the wealth.

The NFLPA report cards are an indictment on the greed and incompetence of the billionaire class of owners.