The four players fill distinctly different roles on the Washington Redskins, but their off-season has been spent in a similiar fashion: answering questions from fans and friends about the negotiations between the National Football League and its players union over a new collective bargaining agreement.
"They all want to know if there is going to be a strike," said linebacker Monte Coleman. "I tell them I don't know. No one does."
Coleman, quarterback Joe Theismann, linebacker Mel Kaufman and free safety Mark Murphy were asked during separate interviews with Washington Post staff writer Paul Attner to discuss their feelings regarding negotiations, percentage of the gross, a possible strike and other pertinent aspects of the labor situation. Excerpts from those interviews follow.
Joe Theismann: There have been players who have spoken out both for and against the proposals that are on the table. What happens if there is a compromise worked out? You have seen guys rebuke what other guys have said and that can't help but create bad feelings. Now what you have done is have two guys take different sides on what could be a nonexistent issue.
I am a proponent of free agency. If a man is good enough to sell his wares, he should be able to. The argument is that owners are in collusion and won't bid for a superstar just because they all make the same amount of money. But every owner wants to win a championship and if he has one or two positions on his football team that he can better by going out and getting somebody else, he'll do it.
Remember, every man who owns a professional football team doesn't have that as his main source of income . . . But I don't take a stand either way on what has happened so far in bargaining.
The union listens to you but maybe not as totally as you would like. But they'd certainly be misrepresenting the players if they didn't listen. I didn't go to Albuquerque (to the union convention in March) because I knew the things I had to say there would not change the way things went. The issues haven't been totally presented. Until they are and I agree or disagree with them, I am not going to make a decision or make any statements. I am going to wait until all the cards are on the table, and then I will research everything fully. Who knows? Maybe percentage of the gross won't be there any more, so why make a decision on it now?
The only thing I can say to every guy in the union is that I hope you fully understand everything before you make up your mind.
I'm idealistic. I think that when a man makes a decision that he thinks is right for himself and for his family, then that's something he has to stand by. I don't know if you can isolate yourself like that or not, but whatever I do, I'll have my reasons.
There hasn't been any pressure put on me by either side and I wouldn't anticipate any. I think both sides are scared to death of what I would say. They just don't know what is going to come out. That's one thing about being called the Niagara Falls of the mouth: people have to wonder what you are going to say next.
I am supportive of a players union. There has to be a players union or else the owners would run roughshod over us. Look at this last agreement we signed; you don't call that roughshod, it's a crock of baloney. It's just like voting for a president. I may not agree with everything that the president does, but I still believe that I was right in voting for him.
The Young Star
Monte Coleman: I think about the negotiations all the time, I think about the possibilities.
Is there going to be a strike, is there not? But I'm not the type of guy who goes crazy. It does concern me, it's my job. I don't want a strike, I'm sure no one does. I read all the brochures they send out to us and I try to stay up on what is going on.
I went to Albuquerque. I learned from being there, but it didn't really influence me or make up my mind. I had my mind made up before I went there. I decided to support what was right. What do I support? I won't say.
I understand what percentage of the gross means. I think it is a good demand. But I still would go along with the majority, if they thought improved free agency rules were better.
I'm not a leader. I'm more of a follower. I'm not going to follow anything that is wrong but only I can determine that.
I'm into the bread and butter of my career. It's my fourth year and this is really important. I am training myself for this season, so if there is one, I'll be ready. But if we miss a season, it won't be only me, it will be everyone.
I've seen guys miss seasons and be all-pro and I see guys come back and be at the bottom. I'm at the bottom now, I can't get any lower. I don't think it would hurt me to the extent that it would totally tear me down. I'd miss the game. I want to prove myself but I don't psych myself way ahead of time for a season.
I haven't asked how much money I'd be earning under percentage of the gross. Whatever it would be I'd be wanting more. It's the way of football. What you think you are worth and what the ball club thinks are two different figures. I'm curious but I'm almost sure it would be more than I make now.
It's kind of obvious what I could do as a free agent. Walter Payton. Look what happened when he was a free agent. Nothing. You can't compare football and baseball free agency. They are totally different. Baseball has George Steinbrenner, football doesn't.
I'd be on a tight budget, strike or no strike. It would put a financial strain on me. If you compare me, an 11th-round pick to a first-round pick in the same year, he is much more financially stable. He made more money in one year than I made in three. Even a first-round pick this year will have way more money than I will have after four years. It's the round that counts.
The Player Rep
Mark Murphy: I don't feel I'll be treated any differently by the Redskins just because I am player representative.
I've always done everything they've asked in the past and they've treated me well and there is no reason that shouldn't continue. It's really a labor relation, just like in any other business. I was elected by my teammates to be player rep and I have to do that to the best of my ability.
But along with that I play defensive back for the Redskins and I have to do that with the best of my ability, too. I just have to hope I will be judged fairly. I'm aware of what has happened to other player reps around the league, but I don't want to leave the Washington area.
I'm sure my players know what is going on. There were 21 players at the convention and I set up a team council with eight players to help keep everyone informed. I'd say support among the team is strong.
You can't expect to be 100 percent united, but at least everyone should know the issues and understand them. You have to make players understand that collective bargaining is a long and involved process that takes time. They just have to have confidence in the union leadership that we will come out with an agreement they will be happy with.
Every player in the league wants the same thing: higher wages and better benefits. If you look at it that way, you realize we are all on the same page. There is going to be a lot of pressure placed on all of us, but we can win out if we stay together.
When I came into the league as a free agent, I was behind (in salary), and I'll never catch up because I have no bargaining power as an individual. It doesn't make any difference how well I play. Because it's not a free market, I'm not paid what I would get in a free market.
I started out at $21,000 my first year and a first-round pick got $60,000. By natural progression, I'll always be behind. I quickly realized that individually no player in the league has any bargaining power, with a few exceptions.
I can't see free agency helping any but a small number of players. And one of the things I feel has to be addressed is job security. No one in the league has any job security. I realize that a contract in the NFL is really not a contract. It's completely a one-sided agreement and they can cut you at any time, yet you are bound to the team for the life of the contract. It also bothers me that two-thirds of the players don't have their degrees. We need better job counseling and educational counseling.
Percentage of the gross has gotten a lot of criticism as being radical but it's not something that just evolved out of thin air. It evolved over a number of years. Players thought about it in the late '60s. They looked at the way the NFL is set up. Ed Garvey came up with a system that really is just a vehicle to pay the players within the current NFL structure. The players have said it, if they will change their system of sharing 95 percent of all their revenues, we will change our proposal. But as long as they have their system, free agency won't work.
I'm not out to overthrow the game, but I would like to see everyone profit from the great popularity and profitability of the game.
The older players are worried about job security. The younger players ask how they are going to do it (financially) if there is a strike. They want to know what management's tactics will be. They want to know what they will make under percentage of the gross. Those are questions any worker has during negotiations. My father has been in labor negotiations for over 20 years, representing management, so I've been involved in this for a long time. It's never been easy and this time won't be any different.
Mel Kaufman: When I made the team last year as a free agent, I was aware of the union. But I figured if I was a member, I might as well check out what it could do for me. That's how I'm approaching the negotiations.
I read everything they send me in the mail and I've done a little research on my own. This is my responsibility . . . I don't want anyone telling me what to do.
I really am in a difficult position. It's an important year for me coming up. I've got to let them know that what I did last year was not a fluke, so it's like proving yourself again. There isn't much security when you make it as a free agent.
I think about what management could do to you if there is a strike. After all, they are the people who hired me and signed my contract. Maybe it would be easier to talk about it if I was a six-year starter. Then I'd be more established. But no one really is safe, no one has got it made.
If there was a strike, I'd probably find a job. But if there is a strike, I wouldn't want it to go all season. Then I would start having some trouble. This is my job, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't in it for the money. But it's more than that. I really enjoy playing and I'd like to be here for a few more years.
The baseball strike left people angry. Some of my friends, they kid me and tell me they'll kill me if we strike because they got mad when baseball was stopped last summer. But what happens one way or the other this summer isn't going to take any money out of their pockets.
We talk about it sometimes but it's not always a heavy topic of conversation. But I'm sure this training camp will be a lot different from last year's, and not just because I'm a veteran now. We'll have the negotiations going on. It's going to be hard not talking a lot about them in Carlisle. Real hard.