The National Football League Players Association, charging that NFL management has threatened its players with disciplinary action for union activity, says it is considering a work stoppage during the exhibition season.
"We may want to shut down some games just to protect our people," NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey said yesterday. "Management is threatening the players that if they engage in any kind of concerted activity they will be subject to discipline."
Jack Donlan, the NFL's chief labor negotiator, said the league "will face that issue when we come to it," if the union tries to shut down any exhibition games. He said he did send Garvey a message that, "If there are any disturbances by players, those players will be appropriately disciplined by their clubs.
"We had gotten reports that there was going to be some kind of fraternization at midfield during the Hall of Fame Game. We were told the players were going to mill around and shake hands, delay the game. What we're saying is, 'Look, these games should go on as usual.' "
Meanwhile, Tex Schramm, president of the Dallas Cowboys and the chairman of the NFL's competition committee, said the committee would recommend cancellation of the 1982 season if it concludes that a strike or lockout has compromised the integrity of NFL competition.
"It wouldn't take a great deal of disruption before you wouldn't have a true race," said Schramm. "If our race loses its integrity, our recommendation would be that the season be called."
Schramm said the competition committee, which also includes Don Shula, coach of the Miami Dolphins; Eddie LeBaron, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, and Paul Brown, general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals, had reached no definite guidelines as to what would constitute a compromised season.
But he added that, unlike professional baseball and basketball, the NFL schedules relatively few games -- 16 per team during the regular season -- and is therefore more vulnerable to a work stoppage that could compromise the integrity of its competition.
Although he's now considering shutting down some exhibition games, Garvey has said repeatedly that the NFLPA's real leverage will come during the regular season when a strike could deprive the team owners of their lucrative television revenues.
"We've got to be somewhat flexible," said Garvey, adding that union representatives have been visiting players in training camps and that strike authorization votes "have been overwhelming." The union has well over the necessary two-thirds votes it needs to call a strike, he said.
As all 28 NFL teams begin their four-game exhibition schedules this weekend, the league and the players remain poles apart in their contract negotiations, with no likely settlement in sight. The players are demanding that the league divert 55 percent of its gross income to a trust fund that would pay players according to a seniority-based scale with performance-incentive bonuses. The league says it is willing to increase salaries and benefits but will never agree to any plan involving percentage of gross revenues.
Negotiators for the union and the NFL Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, last met in Washington July 23, and there have been no other meetings scheduled. The contract between the two sides expired July 15.
Garvey says he wants to meet near a training-camp site to permit players to participate in the negotiations.
"We feel it's important for the players to be involved. Otherwise, you just have a bunch of lawyers arguing with each other," he said. The union did suggest a meeting in Washington next Monday when NFLPA President Gene Upshaw of the Los Angeles Raiders will be in town to testify on an NFL antitrust bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the management council said it was unavailable.
However, Donlan angrily accused Garvey of delaying negotiations. "Your continued refusal to meet is unconscionable," he said in a message to Garvey this week. "It's clear you don't care about the fans or the league, but you should at least be concerned about the players you represent. We offered to meet with you both this week and last in New York City, where the meetings were originally scheduled, or in your offices in Washington, D.C., or any other mutually agreeable location except training camps, and you refused . . . "
A critical time for management will be the week before the start of the regular season, Sept. 12. Reportedly, a majority of the owners favor locking the players out if there are not good prospects for a settlement by then.
Donlan said yesterday he will reevaluate the situation during that week. He has said in the past he does not want to "fund a strike" by permitting the players to begin drawing their regular-season paychecks, but he has also acknowledged that a lockout called by management could be a public relations disaster.
He said the NFL has obtained a $150 million line of credit from Crocker National Bank in San Francisco so that the 28 NFL clubs can be "in a strong financial position to take any of Garvey's nonsense."