Mawae speaks before Congress on NFL labor issues

Wednesday, January 20, 2010 at 3:57pm

Tennessee Titans center Kevin Mawae, who also serves as president of the NFL Players Association, was one of approximately 30 current and former players in Washington Wednesday to speak to Congress about the ongoing labor situation in pro football.

Mawae spoke before the Senate Judiciary Committee and, according to the Associated Press, said that NFL “management is pushing us toward a lockout.”

Mawae told The City Paper in a telephone interview Wednesday evening from Washington, D.C., that the players union has a vested interest in seeing the results of a case between the NFL and the American Needle Apparel Co., that could potentially have ramifications on a potential lockout in 2011.

American Needle is suing the NFL, wishing to be able to deal with individual league members rather than with the league as a whole as it pertains to merchandising.

Mawae said if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the NFL, then it could potentially hurt the players union’s ability to decertify in the event of a lockout.

“From the simple form, it’s a simple case of smaller manufacturing company wanting rights to deal with single NFL teams. American Needle is challenging the NFL’s ability to be identified as single entity,” Mawae explained. “By taking this to the Supreme Court, what we believe the NFL is failing to reveal is that they’re seeking a larger antitrust exemption.”

Where that could come into play, says Mawae, is that if the NFL is ruled a single entity then it could enable the league to potentially cripple the players and the union in setting future policies and in preventing a lockout two years from now.

“If the court were to come back and recognize the NFL as a single entity, it would hurt the ability of players to take action and hurt the union’s options of going through the courts for decertification like in the past,” Mawae said.

Mawae said if the Supreme Court ruling goes in favor of the league, then the NFL would have much broader powers in a number of areas that could stretch from ticket prices to free agency.

“They could have the power to set ticket prices, market prices, a unilateral salary cap and those are other issues that could potentially be an issue if they get the ruling we hope they don’t get,” Mawae said.

Mawae and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith and other player reps spent part of Tuesday in negotiations, and Mawae was selected to testify on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. He said it was an undertaking that made him plenty nervous.

“When you’re sitting there before a subcommittee, it can be pretty nerve-wracking,” Mawae admitted of his time on Capitol Hill.

In the event of an uncapped season, there are plenty of rule changes that would apply to free agency in 2010 if the salary cap is removed. One of the primary changes is the number of years it would take for a player to reach unrestricted free agency. Players would need six full seasons to become a UFA, whereas now in the salary cap season, they only need four seasons accrued to become unrestricted.

Those players who have completed their fourth and fifth NFL seasons – and there are more than 200 league-wide that would be affected by the absence of a cap – would be only restricted free agents.

Six Titans players fit into that category: Running back LenDale White, defensive tackles Tony Brown and Kevin Vickerson, defensive end Dave Ball, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and tight end Bo Scaife.