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January 22, 2012

MAUREEN HAYDEN: NFL players in ‘lock step with organized labor’

It’s not uncommon to see lawmakers in the Statehouse sporting American flag pins on their coat lapels.

In recent weeks, many have added a second lapel pin which carries the official logo of the 2012 Super Bowl. The game is set to be played Feb. 5 in a stadium just shoutin’ distance from the Statehouse.

That pin is just a little memento of the glory that’s supposed to come Indiana’s way, but it may quickly morph into a symbol of something much different.

The dysfunctional politics in the Indiana Statehouse are spilling over into the game, creating headlines that Super Bowl boosters would rather not see.

The culprit is the contentious right-to-work legislation that outlaws mandatory union dues for private-sector workers.

The Republicans who control the Statehouse want it fast-tracked, out of the way before national news crews descend on the capitol city.

Democrats have been doing their best to slow it down and escalate attention to the fight by staging no-shows on the House floor.

The latter are getting a boost from a noteworthy source of support: The National Football League Players Association, whose members staged their own work stoppage in 2011 — one that threatened to kill the season and cancel the 2012 Super Bowl.

A couple of weeks ago, the NFLPA issued a strong statement denouncing the legislation as “a political ploy designed to destroy basic workers’ rights.” The NFLPA took a swipe at GOP leaders in the Statehouse, describing them as politicians out to destroy the exemplary teamwork of Indianapolis Super Bowl volunteers and boosters by trying to “ram through” the bill.

NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith took it up another notch last week in an interview with a writer with “The Nation,” a political magazine with a distinctly leftward bent.

Smith said NFL players were in “lock step with organized labor” on its opposition to the bill and raised the possibility that his members might be willing to leverage their fame to upstage the championship game.

“We’ve been on picket lines in Indianapolis already with hotel workers who were basically pushed to the point of breaking on the hotel rooms that they had to clean because they were not union workers,” he said. “We’ve been on picket lines in Boston and San Antonio. So, the idea of participating in a legal protest is something that we’ve done before.”

But would they do it if it detracted from the spectacle of the big game?

“We’ll have to see what is going to go on when we’re there,” he told the Nation writer. “[B]ut issues like this are incredibly important to us.”

Maureen Hayden is the Indiana Statehouse bureau chief for CNHI, the parent company of the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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