Led NFL play­ers union dur­ing strikes

The Washington Post Sunday - - OBITUARIES - FROM NEWS SER­VICES AND STAFF RE­PORTS new­so­bits@wash­post.com

Ed Gar­vey, a lawyer and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist who led the Na­tional Foot­ball League Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion for 12 years, guid­ing it through two strikes in an ef­fort to have the union fully rec­og­nized by team own­ers, died Feb. 22 at a nurs­ing home in Verona, Wis. He was 76.

He had Parkinson’s dis­ease. His death was first re­ported by Dave Zweifel, a long­time friend and a for­mer ed­i­tor of the Cap­i­tal Times news­pa­per in Madi­son, Wis.

Mr. Gar­vey be­came head of the play­ers as­so­ci­a­tion in 1971 af­ter work­ing as a le­gal ad­viser to Bal­ti­more Colts tight end John Mackey, who was a union leader among NFL play­ers. One of Mr. Gar­vey’s pri­mary goals was to elim­i­nate the “Rozelle Rule.”

Named for for­mer NFL com­mis­sioner Pete Rozelle, the rule lim­ited the right of play­ers to be­come free agents af­ter their con­tracts ex­pired. Un­der the rule, a team that signed a free agent was re­quired to com­pen­sate the player’s for­mer team with a com­pa­ra­ble player or draft pick.

To draw at­ten­tion to the play­ers’ plight, Mr. Gar­vey or­ga­nized a strike in the 1974 pre­sea­son, us­ing the phrase “No free­dom, no foot­ball.” In 1975, the Rozelle Rule was over­turned by a fed­eral judge, who said it vi­o­lated an­titrust laws.

De­spite the court­room vic­tory, the play­ers con­tin­ued to struggle to gain recog­ni­tion for their union, as team own­ers con­tin­ued to re­sist or­ga­niz­ing ef­forts as creep­ing so­cial­ism in the sport.

With the play­ers union de­mand­ing a larger per­cent­age of NFL rev­enue, Mr. Gar­vey ini­ti­ated an­other play­ers’ strike dur­ing the 1982 sea­son. The play­ers were on strike for nearly two months, elim­i­nat­ing seven weeks of games.

Even­tu­ally the play­ers re­turned to the field, with a new col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment with own­ers. Mr. Gar­vey re­signed as NFLPA’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor in 1983.

“Ed brought a pro­fes­sion­al­ism and a struc­ture to the NFLPA,” Mark Mur­phy, pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the Green Bay Pack­ers and a union rep­re­sen­ta­tive while a player with the Wash­ing­ton Redskins, told the Cap­i­tal Times. “He fought [the own­ers] on ev­ery­thing. To me, he laid the ground­work for what the play­ers have now.”

It took un­til 1993, when for­mer player Gene Up­shaw was lead­ing the union, be­fore the play­ers fi­nally won un­re­stricted free agency.

Ed­ward R. Gar­vey was born April 18, 1940, in Burling­ton, Wis. As an un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin at Madi­son, he was pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion, an ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tion in­volved in civil rights and other so­cial is­sues. (It was later re­vealed that the or­ga­ni­za­tion se­cretly re­ceived fund­ing from the CIA.)

Mr. Gar­vey served in the Army in the 1960s and grad­u­ated from the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin’s law school in 1969. He then joined a law firm in Min­ne­ap­o­lis, where he be­gan work­ing with Mackey and the NFL play­ers’ union.

He ran un­suc­cess­fully for the U.S. Se­nate as a Demo­crat in 1986, los­ing to in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Robert Kas­ten. Dur­ing the hard­fought race, Mr. Gar­vey filed suit, charg­ing Thomp­son’s cam­paign with de­cep­tive and li­belous ad­ver­tis­ing.

In 1998, Mr. Gar­vey lost the gu­ber­na­to­rial race to in­cum­bent Tommy Thomp­son (R).

In re­cent years, Mr. Gar­vey or­ga­nized the Fight­ing Bob Fest, an an­nual gath­er­ing in Wis­con­sin for po­lit­i­cal lib­er­als named for ear­ly20th-cen­tury Wis­con­sin gover­nor and U.S. se­na­tor Robert M. “Fight­ing Bob” LaFol­lette Sr.

In­for­ma­tion about sur­vivors was not im­me­di­ately avail­able.


Ed Gar­vey, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Foot­ball League Play­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, speaks be­fore con­tract talks in 1982.

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