By now you guys should know that there is little I love more than a sports documentary that actually teaches me something, whether that be a history of racial tensions in Los Angeles in Part One of the Emmy Award Winning “OJ: Made in America” or the jam packed history lesson that was “The Ghosts of Ole Miss.” So imagine my surprise when I tuned into “The Year of the Scab” to see that not only would I be learning about one of the darker times in National Football League but getting a mini lesson into how unions work. “The Year of the Scab” is one of the most informative and thought provoking documentaries that I have seen in awhile (the aforementioned OJ series withstanding) and I have a few big reactions that can apply to more than just football.
Before we jump into my big reactions to this film, there was one part that I want to discuss because I think it’s the most important part of this whole film. Early on in the film Anthony Sagnella made a comment about being a scab, saying that he didn’t think of the NFL Players’ Association in the same rank as the teamsters because there was no opportunity for Sagnella to play football. That raises an important point about unions and the purpose of having a union. From my limited knowledge, I know that unions are a way for workers to have a fair wage and working conditions. Unions also work to ensure that their people get hired for jobs over those not in the union. So going off of that way of thinking, I happen to agree with Sagnella because it’s not like there is another NFL for players to play in, so how can you blame these guys for taking the opportunity to play when presented? Wouldn’t you do the same thing if you had been dreaming of playing in the NFL your whole life and never had the chance until the players went on strike?
Now onto the whole point of this post the first big reaction from the film is the strike as a whole. The strike happened because the owners and NFL Players’ Association couldn’t agree over free agency and then folded because the players grew tired of watching scabs play the game they loved essentially. Now I’m not saying that free agency isn’t important, because it’s a huge part of the NFL today. I’m surprised that they would feel so passionately about getting free agency to strike and then fold just as quickly for whatever reasons they felt necessary to explain it. Now I’m not making millions of dollars playing professional sports, but I would like to think that if I were in their shoes and wanted something added to the CBA that helps me earn my salary that I wouldn’t fold as quickly just because the game was still going on without me. I do think that the union might have been a bit more successful if their leadership had made them an actual united front. This is still going on today mind you, I would suggest checking out the recent Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel he had an excellent piece about the state of affairs with the NFLPA today.
The next thing that made me pause was how the striking NFL players treated the scabs, or replacement players. Now I completely understand their initial hatred because these guys were crossing the picket line and taking the jobs of the guys striking to have a fair collective bargaining agreement. But what the players failed to realize at that time is that the guys crossing the line were desperate to have a shot to play in the big leagues. Most of these guys were finally living out their dream and it’s not fair that the “real” NFL players (and I use that term loosely) would threaten violence when all the replacements wanted was a chance to live their dreams. You could say that it was at the moment that one of the Washington Redskins players broke a window on the bus that I lost all sympathy and compassion for the spoiled millionaires picketing because they weren’t getting their way. Plus really that hatred should have been thrown at the owners and general managers that went along with the whole plan because they were the ones that went out to find these guys and bring them in because guess what, owners do not want to lose money and by bringing in replacement players, the owners probably saved money because those guys didn’t make nearly as much as the striking players.
But the biggest reaction I had to this film was the fact that the replacements were not given Super Bowl rings when they had been the reason why the team had even gotten to the Super Bowl. It made my skin crawl seeing how these guys were just tossed away once the players finally got their acts together and ended the strike. For three weeks these guys had worked their butts off to play their best and had won three divisional games, plus the replacements were MUCH better than the actual team. And it really bothered me when Charley Casserly, the Redskins GM, said that they couldn’t give the replacement guys rings because the league didn’t give them enough money to do so and that the rings were expensive. As if the team couldn’t afford to give them rings, I mean they give everyone in the organization a ring so really it’s a copout answer and reminds you that players are nothing more than a means to an end for management. It’s also been thirty years since this happened and the Redskins haven’t bothered to make it right, so really it serves them right that their product on the field is subpar because they have this dark cloud hanging over their heads.
Overall, I highly suggest checking out “The Year of the Scab” because it’s exactly what you want a ’30 for 30′ to be: informative, thought and emotionally provoking. If you’re a fan of football, you will not be disappointed spending 90 minutes learning about America’s favorite sport.