ESPN’s Rick Reilly Shoots Wide of Target With Ill-Informed Anti-Union Column

Yesterday ESPN columnist Rick Reilly published one of the most inaccurate attacks on unions that we’ve seen this year, which, if you follow workers’ rights, you know is saying something. Reilly clumsily sets forth the following argument: Golfers don’t have guaranteed income, which Reilly assumes means their pay is tied to sporting performance, which he likes. Professional golfers also don’t have a union, so in Reilly’s view this means that players unions in other sports are bad. In this case, Reilly’s claims about the PGA are erroneous, and his attack on players unions is flawed.

Importantly, regarding his central example, the PGA Tour, Reilly’s premise that there is no guaranteed money in golf simply isn’t true. PGA players are extremely well-compensated with sponsorship money. This money is guaranteed. In fact, it’s their primary source of income. To give one example, according to Forbes, Phil Mickelson earned $47 million last year, over $40 million of which was from his sponsors. Golfers are more or less walking billboards, as are most PGA Tour events, which are sponsored from the name of the event down to the scoreboard. Indeed, five corporate logos are visible in the two photos posted alongside Reilly’s column. However, the words “sponsor” and “corporate” do not appear in Reilly’s column—a glaring oversight.

Sponsorship money isn’t the only guaranteed revenue in golf. Players are also typically given appearance fees. For example, there might be a payment made for appearing at the pre-tournament dinner, rather than the tournament itself. Reilly’s vision of top golfers walking away empty-handed after a bad tournament stretches credulity.

But beyond being inaccurate, Reilly’s argument is simply bizarre. There’s no mention of the obvious differences between the average careers and health risks of a golfer and football player. There’s something put forward in the conclusion about calling fouls that, seemingly, has nothing to do with anything. Overall, his column includes a litany of examples of how the PGA Tour is a one-sided relationship that favors management, and then pats the golfers on the back for accepting it. Given that Reilly wrote a relatively well-informed and reasoned column in support of NFL players, earlier this spring, it’s pretty clear that Thursday’s offering was not something to which Reilly gave too much thought.

The employees that make an industry profitable, in this case professional athletes, should have some stability. The golfers who make an event attractive and profitable should be entitled to greater security. All workers deserve a voice on the job and a stake in the future of their company. That isn’t being babied, as Reilly claims. It’s being empowered to stand up for critical issues like safety and health care and being treated with respect.

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 15th, 2011 at 2:26 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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