(I am honored to have been interviewed for this piece that runs on the National Football League Players Association website and is reprinted here with NFLPA permission)--

    Chuck Cascio, editor of the book

     Never Ask “Why”—Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL by Ed Garvey



     When Ed Garvey, then a 31-year-old attorney from Wisconsin with no football background, took over as the first executive director of the NFL Players Association in 1971, his credentials didn’t exactly fit the job description. But over the course of a 12-year tenure built on the premise that athletes should be treated for who they are – workers in the labor force – Garvey helped generate the spark needed for the union to earn big wins, including true free agency, larger revenue for the players and, perhaps most importantly, dignity on the job.


    In the latter years of his life, Garvey began putting together notes for a book about his time leading the NFLPA. When Garvey’s 2017 death at the age of 76 prematurely halted this endeavor, award-winning journalist Chuck Cascio was asked by Garvey’s family to take the baton in finishing the job. 


    Never Ask “Why”: Football Players’ Fight For Freedom poignantly presents the story behind how the athletes who made up the game of football fought to make sure the league’s owners played fair – all through the words and lens of Garvey.


    In anticipation of its December 23 release, Cascio recently discussed the book’s origins and message.



     How did it come about that you would be the one who finished what Ed Garvey started in writing this book?


    When Ed died in 2017, his family knew he was trying to put together a book to tell the story of establishing the NFLPA and the fight for player rights. Through a mutual friend in [former NFL player and NFLPA assistant executive director] Brig Owens, he put me in touch with the family. I wrote my first book with Brig in 1972, and the Garvey family graciously asked if I could put together Ed’s notes into a manuscript for his book. So I got in touch with an agent and we were able to secure a publishing company in Temple University Press. This all was about a three-to-four-year process.


    What was that process like in pulling together a book for someone who you didn’t have the luxury of speaking with along the way and yet still maintaining his vision?


    What kept me going was, absolutely, the importance of this book in the world today. There’s this assumption that athletes have it made, so they should just be quiet. That’s a direct reflection of what Ed and the players had to deal with, and it’s still going on today. The title is “Never Ask ‘Why.’” Ed wanted that title because that’s what players were told when they asked about contracts or certain benefits that, really, they were entitled to. Owners said don’t ask why; just do what you’re supposed to do on the football field. And of course, Ed and the players mightily pushed back against that.


    There’s so much unique content, and it’s all in Ed’s own words. The book is very conversational with both personal and scholastic appeal. The Garvey family graciously provided me with tons of information – some that was roughed out in manuscript form and some where you could see notes of his thought process. I did as best I could to honor his words and content. It’s not an autobiography of his life, though. It’s a reflective, honest piece about his tenure with the NFLPA and the 12 or so years when he was really in charge of things.


    What are some of your biggest takeaways from the book?

    When most people look at pro athletes, they think “Oh, they’ve made it with the money and fame.” But that’s not entirely true. Yes, they are a lot better off today than they were in the ‘70s and ‘80s, which is when Ed was running the NFLPA. But it took a lot of work and sacrifice to build that progress, and that work is far from finished in holding the league accountable in treating players fairly as workers and people.


    One thing that we really see in the book is the fight to get rid of the Rozelle Rule and the limitations that were in the standard player contract, which was based on a system built in the 1870s. There was no right to go play for another team, and I wasn’t fully aware of how much power that gave owners over players, who were basically giving up their bodies every day for their sport and profession. Ed said, they were not being treated as professionals; they were being treated like chattel.

    To me, while I had some awareness, I was guilty as any other fan who says, “Oh man, why are athletes complaining? They have it made.” You really start to understand the roots and what they had to go through to earn what they have today.


    Are there any anecdotes that you especially enjoyed or feel like truly capture who Ed was during his time leading the players?


    Ed always had a quick wit and humor about him as well as a deep intelligence -- and that comes through often in his writing. He also made a great comparison with the singer Barry Manilow about how he gets 90 percent of the ticket revenue that comes in but football players don’t get anything close to that for doing their job in much the same way. I found it fascinating to get a glimpse into how Ed discovered the wage scale among owners, which was a confidential agreement to limit and determine how much players should be paid. That’s where the “No Freedom, No Football” slogan came from during the 1974 strike.


    There are also times where Ed admits he and the group of players were naïve and made mistakes. They were guilty of believing the owners were going to change after the Rozelle Rule was struck down in court, and then two days later, they see nothing changed. Instead, the owners were using their influence over the media to push a narrative against the players. That type of transparency makes the book even more compelling.


    What is the one message that you want readers to get from reading this book?


    Something that comes through in the book and Ed re-emphasizes in the end is that, while writers focused on the players’ concerns with the reserve system in economic terms, players were subject to a lot of non-economic factors as well. For instance, Black players were not able to play certain positions like center and quarterback. And listen, we’re not talking about 150 years ago. We’re talking about the 1980s. This was real, this was going on and it still is going on today in many different ways. That’s what I want people to take away, and Ed hits on this in an excerpt at the end of the book:


    “So, the battle is joined. Management, with weapons from all other sports leagues, the union with help from the AFL-CIO. Looming on the horizon are billions of dollars to be generated by pay cable television. When the fight comes, NFL players will understand that the “performers” deserve most of these revenues and they will understand that, if successful, the reserve system and all of its dehumanizing aspects will have died in the NFL. It will be a battle worth watching, worth participating in.”


     Copyright: NFLPA and Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

    Questions? Comments? Write to chuckwrites@yahoo.com





    Chuck Cascio



         My friend Brig Owens, the all-star safety for the Washington football team, handed me a tee-shirt. "We are going on strike," he said. "I hope you will wear this to show your support."

         I unfolded the shirt, and read its slogan spelled out around a clenched fist: "No Freedom, No Football." I shook Brig's hand and said, "Sure, I will wear it and support you in any way that I can."

         Well, there were not many ways that I--a teacher and freelance journalist--could support Brig and the other players in the NFL who went on strike in 1974, but I understood their cause and I did what I could—writing articles, speaking informally about the players’ cause, and making the the tee-shirt a staple of my wardrobe. At that time, players did not have basic workers' rights--health insurance was limited as were pensions, and players had virtually no say about which team would own their rights in a trade or sale. As far as fans were concerned, few recognized that the guys on the field were actually...WORKERS!  


         Recently, in various fields we see workers demanding their rights, whether it is more money, fringe benefits, time off, or other items relating to personal freedom. They often make their case in ways that surprise others. Perhaps that is because we don't often think about the people on the front line...the people who drive the trucks that deliver the goods at 3:00 AM; the workers responsible for the basic details of automobile operations; the writers and performers whose creativity and commitment create the shows that entertain us and millions of others daily.

         Across professions, there is the tendency to forget that the bottom-line people responsible are, in fact, workers! That is why being given the privilege of developing and editing the late Ed Garvey's experiences and words for the book Never Ask "Why": Football Players' Fight for Freedom in the NFL has been so meaningful to me. Ed was the executive director of the National Football League Players Association from 1971-1983, and among many other initiatives that he led on behalf of players' rights was the "No Freedom, No Football" strike of 1974.

         The tee-shirt, the clenched fist, the players' picket lines, and the slogan “No Freedom, No Football” went a long way toward raising awareness among fans that players were workers who were serious about the freedom issues, issues to which many fans themselves could relate. The slogan and actions conveyed defiance. They communicated the essence of fundamental rights. And they ultimately succeeded in establishing an important starting point for players' rights.

         Never Ask "Why" is now being widely distributed by Temple University Press to football fans, academics, and anyone interested in the issues of equity that are at the basis of this important piece of sports history. Ed Garvey was a fan, a rebel, and a game changer. His experiences are not only a piece of sports and labor history; they are at the core of rights for all workers. 

         That iconic slogan and symbol captured the reality of the battle that was being fought...a battle that continues in sports and other fields today, as the role of ground-level workers is acknowledged, debated, and ultimately, we hope, rewarded.


    Never Ask “Why”: Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL

    Available in hardback or ebook via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many others including directly from Temple University Press at https://tupress.temple.edu/books/never-ask-why

    Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

    Comments? Send to chuckwrites@yahoo.com

  • World Series Champs with a Lesson Beyond Baseball



    Chuck Cascio


          We were doing Baby Shark!

         We were slapping high fives with strangers!

         We were cheering like children while surrounded by thousands of people our age and, yes, small packs of gleeful kids!

          My wife and I and two dear friends were part of the massive crowd at Nats Park in Washington, DC, watching on a giant TV screen that rainy night of October 30 as the Washington Nationals baseball team—who persisted throughout a difficult regular season with the motto “Stay In the Fight!”—brought the first World Series championship to Washington since 1924. And amid the cheering and hugging, I was taken by the realization that something more significant than a World Series victory was happening. 



    Nats Park wasted no time saluting the champions!

          I have always been enthralled with the uniqueness of baseball. And while all sports at virtually all levels from youth through pros have the potential to deliver responses from fans that border on pandemonium, the seventh game of the World Series is special. It marks the culmination of the longest season in all of sports, a sport that has countless nuances to analyze and interactions that require instant response from players, such as:

         >>>judging in a split second where that 95 miles per hour pitch is headed from just 60 feet, six inches away;    

         >>>calculating at the literal crack of a bat where a ball that is launched high into the sky, sunlight, or stadium lights will land; 

         >>>determining while running full speed if you should turn the corner and risk going to the next base or play it safe and stay where you are. 

         Baseball players' athleticism may stay dormant for innings and hours at a time and then, in one chaotic moment, they may find themselves in a spontaneous burst of reaction, speed, strength, and skill that determines the outcome of a game.

         As the Nats expressed their unlimited youthful glee (we watched on the giant screen as they danced, embraced, jumped joyfully, and laughed at their own Baby Shark impersonations) and the crowd reacted in kind, it was apparent that this was a period of pure joy in a city dominated by politics, a city whose events are too often wedded to talking points, a city whose beauty and history sometimes need an innocent event to reveal its charms, charms reflected in the core of its populace.

         I have no idea—nor do I care—about the political preferences of the strangers whose hands I was slapping, whose embraces I shared. We were all of the same mind in those moments. And something in the row in front of ours made a particularly strong impact on me that night:

         In that row, a group of 10 or so men and women who appeared to be in their late teens reacted with uninhibited, spontaneous, genuine exuberance. Hardcore baseball fans? Maybe; I don’t know, but I saw them experiencing feelings they will remember forever, something that I want more of for them...for my own family...for my friends...for everyone whether it comes from an athletic achievement, a personal accomplishment, or a simple moment in time that we recognize as unique. 

         Appreciation and happiness can surprise us at any time and, of course, baseball is not the only thing that can stimulate those responses. But a professional baseball team did it in Washington, DC, on that night, and my guess is that even those World Champion Washington Nationals players do not fully realize the lasting impact they made on the people of a city. 

         Thanks, Nats. 

         Thanks, baseball. 

         Thanks, fans. 

         Thanks, Baby Shark!

    Copyright Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.