TAMPA, JAN. 24 -- The National Football League Players Association said today that it will not attempt to bargain for a contract with the owners and will continue to fight for total free agency through the court system, despite a major setback after a recent Supreme Court ruling.
At a briefing with reporters yesterday, NFLPA Executive Director Gene Upshaw said: "The players are suffering from an illegal system. We're going to attack it and bring it down."
The NFLPA has been without a contract since the players' strike in 1987. The players returned to work without a contract that same season.
Richard Berthelsen, the NFLPA's general counsel, said that player salaries last year approached 60 percent of the league's revenue, higher than either basketball or baseball. But the NFLPA still feels players could benefit even more from complete free agency.
"The game itself would gain from free agency," Berthelsen said. "Teams are clearly more competitive with free agency."
The owners maintain that total free agency would hurt the quality of football.
While the NFLPA will continue to fight for free agency through the courts, it was hurt by a Jan. 7 high court decision not to hear a challenge to the league's free agency ruling.
Over two dissenting votes, the court let stand a ruling that the league's restrictions on a player switching to another team do not violate antitrust laws.
However, the association still has its hopes on pending antitrust litigation filed last April by eight players, including New York Jets running back Freeman McNeil and Green Bay Packers quarterback Don Majkowski, which the NFLPA said is scheduled for trial in August.
"The Freeman McNeil case goes forth unaffected by the Supreme Court's decision," Berthelsen said. "The league can't claim antitrust exemption on this."
Upshaw and Berthelsen, also said the association's licensing business grossed $6 million in 1989 with a net of about $4.6 million. Retail sales of 60 licensed NFL products exceeded $300 million.
Upshaw said the NFLPA plans to get rebates back to the players by eliminating the $2,000 yearly dues.
The association still would like to get rid of the college draft. It feels that the NFL would be better served by allowing teams to recruit prospective players, similar to what colleges do now.
"I think the NFL would do fine without a draft," Upshaw said.
Upshaw said he recently visited with all 28 NFL teams and that 98 percent of the players in the league are members of the association. There has been concern recently that the association was losing its support.
An Assistance Trust Fund to aid needy ex-players also is being established by the NFLPA. Association President Mike Kenn of the Atlanta Falcons said a series of golf tournaments would be used to raise money.