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To most sports fans, the eight-day-old football strike is just a Sunday afternoon inconvenience. But to Dan Jiggets '76, a tackle for the Chicago Bears and vice-president of the National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA), the strike marks the culmination of a decades-long struggle for equity in professional football.
"This comes after 63 years of players feeling abused," says Jiggetts, who was in Cambridge yesterday on his way to meet with striking members of the New England Patriots. "When you get past the numbers, it's a struggle for dignity. We want to be treated as grown men."
So far, however, negotiators for the owners and the players have had a hard time "getting past the numbers," says Jiggets.
He planned to report to the Patriots that Sunday's bargaining session with the NFL management council had made virtually no progress.
Jiggetts blames management council Executive director Jack Donlan's "uncompromising" attitude for the impasse. "There really hasn't been any bargaining," Jiggetts says. "Donlan's proposal was just the status quo, and that's what we're striking against."
New contract talks were scheduled for tomorrow in Washington after management rejected NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey's call for a special meeting yesterday.
The main sticking point in the bargaining is the union's demand that the owners turn over 50 percent of their $2.1 billion television revenues to the players, who would then distribute the money among themselves according to a negotiated wage scale based in part on player seniority. The owners have flatly rejected this proposal, offering instead a package of salary increases and so-called "career-adjustment bonuses" for more experienced NFLPA members.
In essence, the issue comes down to control over pro football's future revenues. And Jiggetts believes that the players' right to more control stems from one basic fact: "We're the ones risking our lives and limbs to produce the revenue. We should share in it."
Jiggetts, whose easy-going manner and quiet speaking voice bely his intense passion for the players' cause, doesn't predict when the strike would end, noting simply that "we're not coming back until we get what we want." But he adds, "we're going to win."
It's hard to imagine anyone not treating the determined, 6-ft. 4-in., 250-lb. tackle like a grown man. The former Government concentrator won All-Ivy honors for his performance as a tackle on Harvard's last Ivy Championship team in 1975, and was the Bears' sixth-round draft choice later that year.
Jiggetts has been active in union affairs throughout his career, becoming the Bears' player representative in his second pro season and joining the union's executive committee in 1978. He credits his Harvard experiences with helping to prepare him for the double pressure of facing both opposing defenders across the scrimmage line and grey-suited management officials across the bargaining table.
"At Harvard I learned to handle many tasks at once," recalls the former scholar-athlete, who has continued his education in the off-season at the University of Chicago's Business School. "You have similar pressures being a labor leader in the NFL and at a school like Harvard, where there's a lot of demands all focused on you."
Union leader Jiggetts is unimpressed by reports that some players were unhappy with the NFLPA's bargaining stance. Once Miami Dolphins veteran, Bob Keuchenberg, told The New York Times that Garvey was being "ridiculous" in pressing the demand for a union-controlled wage fund.
Jiggetts says that "in any struggle you'll find people with a 'better idea' but 99 percent of the players are behind the union." Indeed, he emphasizes, the management negotiators "began to sense our resolve in Sunday's session. They underestimated our organizing among the players."
But union solidarity may crumble if football fans blame the players for their empty Sunday afternoons and Monday nights. To satisfy the nation's football appetite, the players are planning a series of all star games to be broadcast by Ted Turner's Cable News Network. Meanwhile, Jiggetts notes that polls show overwhelming public support for the players' position, mainly because they recognize the enormous physical risk that professional football players face.
Dan Jiggetts has a clear message for fans who may be frustrated by what they see as player "greed." "When you get past Monday night," he says, his voice rising just a bit to emphasize the point, "you're talking about real people with families. The public should understand that we're after something real and fair Pro sports is entertainment People don't mind Frank Sinatra coming into Chicago and making a million on a weekend--but what about the football player who risks his neck to provide entertainment.
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