The National Football League Players Association said yesterday that players at most, perhaps all, NFL exhibition games this weekend will shake hands at midfield before the kickoffs in a demonstration of union solidarity and to protest the lack of meaningful contract negotiations with the NFL Management Council.
A spokesman for the council, the NFL's labor-negotiating arm, said the players face mandatory fines of at least $100 each for the handshakes, which violate the NFL's antifraternization rule. "The clubs have been instructed by the Management Council to fine the players. They do not have an option," said spokesman Jim Miller.
For the first time, General Manager Bobby Beathard of the Redskins said Washington would follow Management Council policy and fine players who participate in any union-sponsored action during tonight's game at Miami.
"Any action taken (by Washington management), if any, will be dictated by the National Football League," Beathard said. Previously, he had said the Redskins were discussing their response to union activity.
Miller said the council's executive committee met this week and approved the fines to be levied on any player creating a "disturbance" at an exhibition game. "We feel a handshake situation would constitute a disturbance," Miller said.
Members of the executive committee are Jim Kensil, president of the New York Jets; Chuck Sullivan, vice president of the New England Patriots; Hugh Culverhouse, president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Dan Rooney, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers; Leonard Tose, owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, and Mike Brown, assistant general manager of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ed Garvey, executive director of the NFLPA, said the union is filing an unfair labor practice charge with the NFLPA over the threatened fines.
"I think the fans looking at this are beginning to see the true personality of the NFL emerge," said Garvey. "To fine players for shaking hands before a sporting contest is unheard of. It is not a revolutionary idea to shake hands. It's a nice low-key way of saying we will make decisions on a league-wide basis and carry them out."
In another demonstration of union solidarity, members of the Atlanta Falcons yesterday boycotted the NFL's annual lecture on drug abuse by Chuck Jackson, the league's assistant security director. "What they were saying is that they want the league to negotiate with the union instead of telling them what to do," said Garvey.
Observed Miller, "To boycott something like that is stretching it a bit. Those lectures are for the players' own benefit."
Members of the Houston Oilers and the New Orleans Saints shook hands in the center of the Astrodome Thursday night during the coin toss in the first of what the NFLPA described as "a message to management that the NFL Players Association has a united front."
In a statement issued through NFLPA headquarters here, President Gene Upshaw said management's opposition to the handshake "is in marked contrast to almost every professional sport in America.
"The handshake between opponents has become an important part of the opening tip in basketball, the meeting of boxers in the center of the ring, and in all other sports where sportsmanship and respect for your opponent is important to the game.
"We intend to continue this gesture of respect for other players in the NFL and to show solidarity for our union."
Coach Don Shula, asked what he will do if Miami players shake hands with the Redskins, said, "I'll take whatever action I deem appropriate, if and when."