As a fan, when I hear Ramon Foster, the Steelers guard and union representative, making news by warning his union brethren to prepare for a lockout or strike in 2021, my reaction is to just shrug my shoulders.
After all, I realize work stoppages are always going to be a part of professional sports, but sports will still be around when the dust settles. Besides, what do I care about something that may happen five years down the road? I’m more worried about the Steelers’ prospects for the 2016 season.
But then again, football is my pastime—it’s not my occupation.
Foster was very vocal about many things when he addressed the media last Monday—including the league’s inconsistencies with doling out punishment for violations of its drug policy:
“Every situation has been different,” Foster said on August 22 via ESPN.com. “Not one person has had the same penalty. It’s always how the person is feeling who’s handing down the execution. It needs to be refined. It can’t just go through one person.”
What I find more interesting, however, is Foster’s warning to players that they should start saving money in-advance of a potential work stoppage that’s a half-decade down-the-road.
“Hit them in the pocket. That way, money always talks,” Foster said. “For us to do that, we have to save on our end. We can’t be just blowing money and not realize what’s coming, especially with guys coming into the league now.”
Who would know more about having a tighter budget than a player who was an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee in 2009? Obviously, UDFAs don’t make a lot of money in the beginning, and that’s the type of contract Foster had during the first four years of his career—even while starting a combined 30 games in 2011 and 2012.
Even during Foster’s second contract that ran from 2013-2015 and paid him an average annual salary of just over $1.8 million, Foster once remarked that, unlike some of his colleagues at the top of the NFL pay-scale, he didn’t have injury insurance because he couldn’t afford the premiums.
For a player like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose last two contracts were worth more than $175 million combined and whose signing bonus on his last deal ($31 million) more than doubled the total value of Foster’s last two contracts, he doesn’t have to worry about financial uncertainty.
By NFL standards, Foster is middle-class, and while middle-class folks often live decent lifestyles, they’re always one disaster away from being in dire straits.
Speaking of NFL standards, when it comes to that, Foster is your average Joe who goes to work every day, does his job and doesn’t get much press. Also, by all accounts, he’s a really good dude.
Maybe that’s why, as a union rep, he’s also very concerned about the NFL’s image. As he told ESPN last week, while other leagues such as MLB and the NBA keep player issues in-house, every time an NFL player makes a mistake such as failing a drug test, the story is “all over ESPN, Fox, the whole nine.”
Running back Le’Veon Bell, despite his recent troubles, is closer to a football aristocrat than a bourgeoisie—or at least he should be after signing what figures to be a lucrative second contract next spring. When it comes to that, he, like Roethlisberger, may not feel the financial burden of a future lockout or strike. However, after the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated, he may feel less of a burden when it comes to his image and suspensions, if the NFLPA wins some future concessions regarding drug testing.
Ramon Foster may not be a superstar who makes big money (at least by professional football standards), but he represents the silent majority of decent, hard-working NFL players.
When it comes to that, the Steelers are lucky to have him as their union representative.