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Chris Paul: A Union Chief They Can't Knock Off | The Nation

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Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin

Where sports and politics collide.

Chris Paul: A Union Chief They Can't Knock Off


Chris Paul. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In an inspired choice, the players of the National Basketball Association have elected Chris Paul as their new union president. Known as CP3, Paul is a great choice for a union coming out of a period of turmoil. This is not only because of his smarts, commitment to community outreach, and proven ability to lead. He is a great choice for the simple reason that his on-court ability insulates him from being banished by league executives and team owners who like unions about as much as David Stern likes baggy jeans.

Paul is a 28-year-old star at the height of his powers. The first-team All-NBA point guard just signed a guaranteed five-year contract extension with the Los Angeles Clippers. That immediately puts him on firmer ground than union leader/players in the other major sports who found themselves ostracized, blackballed and almost certainly colluded against after challenging ownership in the negotiating room.

The facts speak for themselves. In the NFL, eight-time All-Pro center Kevin Mawae was left unsigned after leading the NFL Players Association into the 2011 lockout.

“It’s kind of befuddling to me that I just came off my eighth Pro Bowl and a sixteen-game season and I can’t get one phone call,” he said in 2010. “Part of me wants to say, yeah, I think my position with the union is a problem for a lot of management people. But at the end of the day I would hope they’d be able to overlook that for making the team better …”

They didn’t. I spoke to Kevin Mawae over Twitter yesterday who said, that sports union leaders “need to be respected proven vet players with time left on [their] contract [to give] owners no excuse.”

Then there is the NHL, which almost lost the entire 2012–13 season after a prolonged owner’s lockout. Veteran defenseman, Ron Hainsey, one of the lead player-negotiators for the Players Association, nicknamed “bad cop” for his pugnacious style with league commissioner Gary Bettman, is still without a job. As Elliotte Friedman of the Canadian Broadcasting Company said, in his reporting he heard “a rumbling going around that Hainsey will never again get an NHL contract.”

Another NHL player who was a lead negotiator, Chris Campoli, has never come back into the league since the lockout, playing in Switzerland. He said during negotiations, “If it affects me in a negative way I can look in the mirror and know that I did the right thing. Some people may say I’m crazy, but at the end of the day I spent numerous hours with some amazing people and have relationships that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

If linking these stories sounds like a conspiracy theory, that’s because it is. But the root on this conspiracy is not the fevered imagination of someone in their basement with a wall-sized spreadsheet detailing all the players who became high-profile collateral damage for daring to stand up to the sports bosses. The conspiracy rests in the fact that the NHL, the NBA, the NFL and the NFL referees were all locked out over the last two years in efforts to weaken their unions, and as I wrote at the time, all the owners in all the leagues are represented by the same bare-knuckled law firm, Proskauer Rose.

A uniform strategy to lock out athlete/workers is something we’ve seen with our own eyes. The fact that this has been followed by the blackballing of player leaders shouldn’t surprise but it should be acknowledged. It should also be seen as a high-profile affront to the most basic and fundamental rights to organize.

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Chris Paul, upon accepting the position of new NBPA president said, “One of my top priorities is to get as much involvement as possible from our players. That’s what it’s about going forward.”

I hope by “our players,” Paul means the players not only in the NBA but in every major US sport. The owners and commissioners have shown they are pursuing an industry-wide strategy. Players need to start thinking along similar lines. Maybe Chris Paul will be the person to make this happen. If CP3 has shown nothing else, we know he understands how to lead a team.

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