What the NFL Players Association Can Teach Congress

Wednesday, 20 Jul 2011 03:33 PM

By Heath Evans

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As both a member of the NFL Players Association and a believer in fiscal conservatism, I think the GOP can learn something from how the NFLPA approached its battle with NFL owners as the GOP negotiates the current debt ceiling crisis.

While both issues are complex and involve broad constituencies and divergent viewpoints, I am convinced the GOP must be the more-prepared side with the clearest consistent message in order to win the day — resulting in a fiscally conservative approach to revenue, spending, and national debt.

By conveying a simple message, the players turned our fan base to our way of thinking. Initially, fans were heavily in favor of the owners (70 percent to 30 percent), but with a clear message from their favorite players — we had a contract and the owners backed out of it — we made our case.

I'm convinced the GOP needs a more powerful, simple message.

Let’s be clear. There is no easy resolution to be had. One side clearly believes in big government, redistribution of wealth, and vilifying business. The other advocates limited government, a simple plan for taxation, and empowering business.

A recent Quinnipiac poll reveals that by a 56 to 38 percent margin voters disapproved of the president’s management of the economy, yet they still trust the president more than they trust congressional Republicans on economic issues (45-38 percent).
NFL Players Association, Congress, NFLPA,
Heath Evans


Nevertheless, a consistent, persistent GOP message will win over the voters and move Congress to a fiscally responsible resolution in much the same way that the NFLPA swayed the opinions of NFL fans.

Here’s how we used a clear consistent message and a persistent strategy to move toward accomplishing our goals: Get behind a strong leader (in our case, DeMaurice Smith) who can enact a strong strategy then convey a strong simple message to overcome strong opposition.

The NFLPA is made up of almost 2,000 opinionated, decisive alpha-males who are used to getting their way and imposing their will on others. As we see in Congress every day, uniting such a group is no easy task.

The GOP needs to find a similar leader who can step out in front to unify. DeMaurice broke the mold of NFLPA heads when he was brought on board, and perhaps the GOP needs to think outside the box in raising up a leader for this fight.

DeMaurice developed a strategy based on the fact that the more prepared side would win the battle: people don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan. In planning to succeed, he understood the issues as well as who was at the table for the other team — both key points in developing a strategy.

In our case, DeMaurice knew that Bob Batterman was across the table. Batterman had orchestrated the NHL owners’ lockout in 2004-2005, and it was clear he would move forward with a similar strong-arm tactic in the current situation.

DeMaurice’s strategy involved preparing the players’ minds to be willing to fight the battle (i.e., miss a season if necessary) for the long-term good of former, current, and future NFL players.

He conveyed a clear-cut plan for players to save enough money during the 2009/2010 seasons to make it through a potentially locked-out season in 2011 with a united front.

For young athletes, many of whom are not fiscally prepared for their wealth to begin with, this meant education and tightening of belts — again similar to the current debt-ceiling issue which will clearly demand a national belt-tightening of its own!

Once the players’ strategy was in place, the players’ message was established.  It needed to be conveyed across all media: traditional interviews both print and screen as well as emerging media through platforms such as Twitter.

The goal was to win over fans and display a united front to owners. The message was simple and powerful: 1. We want to play/let us play 2. This is a lockout, not a strike.

Regular communication from player reps, “reminders” to those few players who shot their mouths off incorrectly in the media, and a pointed effort to take full advantage of the opportunity every NFL player has to get in front of cameras and microphones were all necessary.

Our message was similar to Obama’s 2008 campaign in uniting behind a simple and productive message. “Change” in 2008 became a buzz-word that the entire campaign rallied behind. The only difference is the NFLPA is telling the truth and not just preying on simpletons who would believe anything!

With consistency and persistence, the NFLPA was able to deliver a message that ultimately won the fans and much of the media over.

Heath Evans is an 11-year NFL veteran, and is founder of the Heath Evans Foundation.




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