Led NFL players union during strikes
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.