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ESPN Condones Crossing the Picket Line

Tonight, in ESPN's 30 for 30 Year of the Scab, whose side is ESPN really on?

Brian Young's picture
Sep 12, 2017

After the second week of the 1987 NFL season, the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) went on strike. The 24-day strike led the league to hire scab players to play for three weeks before the strike ended. With the 30th Anniversary of the strike coming up in a few weeks, a new ESPN documentary Year of the Scab takes a look at the season and the players who decided to cross the picket line.

The film, which debuted in April at the Tribeca Film Festival and will be shown tonight on ESPN, focuses specifically on the Washington Redskins scabs. The Redskins had the distinction of being the only team that had no player cross the picket line and the only team to win all three of their games with scab players, including their final game against a Cowboys team that included numerous Pro-Bowlers who had crossed the picket line. The Redskins would then go on to win the Super Bowl that year with their regular players.

The film gives a behind-the-scenes look, through interviews with management, of how the Redskins replaced their players. This included calling up former college players who were in jail, washed up players who had been cut from the team and picking up unsigned players from the CFL and recently folded USFL.

Due to the poor play of these scabs, stadiums were left nearly empty with games being played in front of crowds as small as 4,000 people and TV ratings plummeted. This spurred many owners to try and break the strike by enticing individual players to cross the picket line. Some that crossed included Hall of Famers like Joe Montana, Steve Largent, and New York Jet Pro Bowler Mark Gastineau. In total, about 14% of players would cross the picket line and join the scabs.

In many ways, the NFLPA has never recovered. Since the 1987 strike, the players have not gone on strike since. They were held hostage and locked out by the owners in 2011 who demanded givebacks from the players. The 1987 strike ended without a Collective Bargaining Agreement being put in place and the NFLPA was forced to sue the league on anti-trust grounds. While the union eventually won, it wasn’t until 1993 that a new Collective Bargaining Agreement was signed.

Like The Replacements, the film seeks to portray these players as fighting for one last moment of NFL glory rather than the scum that they really were. Everyone from management to the union players knew these scabs were only there to steal a few paychecks from the real pros. This is best illustrated by the biggest gripe that the Redskin scabs have, the fact that they didn’t receive a Super Bowl Ring.  To the Redskins they were just players who could be used to undercut the professional, union talent and were nothing more.

Year of the Scab can be seen on Tuesday, September 12th at 8 PM EST on ESPN. Click here to watch an extended trailer.

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