As president of the NFL Players Association, Eric Winston, WG’20, says his priorities are player health and safety, financial literacy, and workplace conditions. A former tackle for the Texans, Chiefs, Cardinals, and Bengals, the first-year Wharton EMBA student was interviewed on the Wharton XM radio show Wharton Moneyball by Professors Cade Massey, Adi Wyner and Eric Bradlow on Super Bowl LIII weekend.
Unanimously elected to his third term as president, Eric explained on the show that his role is similar to leading a union. “We bargain on behalf of players for things like wages, hours, working conditions, and health and safety. And it doesn’t stop with the big negotiations every few years.
There are constantly grievances and we look out for them. We also do more outside of the traditional union space to add value to their careers because we want players to get more out of football than football will get out of them.”
He added that the association seeks to balance the needs of players now with their needs when they finish their careers. “Over 60% of our guys are on minimum salaries, so we try to do the right thing for as many people as possible. We try to stress to guys when we talk about revenue the split between benefits and salary. They have a 100% chance of being a former player some day and a 100% chance of getting hurt. They have to make sure they are covering themselves not just now at 25, but also when they’re 45 and 65. There is a huge emphasis on increasing benefits and making sure guys are financially solvent throughout their lifetimes.”
He noted that when players retire, the association continues to represent them in negotiations for things like apparel and trading cards. “When players finish their career, their likenesses revert back to them,” said Eric.
Another big area of interest is player tracking data. The hosts noted that this is the first year that the NFL has full release of data, and Eric gave his thoughts on who owns that data. “Data is an undiscovered country. What is happening now is like we are in the stone age compared to what will happen next year with data. It’s exponentially multiplying. Players have to own their own data just like any other medical records. If they want to give their data to the team to discuss it, then they can.”
He pointed out that some data may need less protection, like how fast it takes a player to run 100 yards, as anyone with a stopwatch could get that information. However, data about things like sleep, blood pressure, and perspiration rate is more personal. “There is a lot we can do with data, but we need to start with a conversation about who owns it and that is the players.”
Putting the issue of ownership aside, Eric said that data can help improve the health and safety of players. He explained, “Sensors and data collection can inform safety protocol. It’s given us a better understanding about issues like concussions and how eating affects overall health. We have so much more knowledge today and are equipped for players to have longer careers than before.”
Eric became involved in the NFL Players Association while playing football in Houston. A teammate who was on the executive committee invited Eric to attend a meeting when he expressed an interest in how players could make the sport better. “I saw a bunch of like-minded guys who wanted to look out for fellow players. It was a brotherhood within a brotherhood. I was hooked after that first meeting and wanted to be a part of this.”
At Wharton, he’s joined another close-knit community in the MBA for Executives Program. Eric said that he sees a lot of value in what he’s learning because he can apply that knowledge in real-time to his job.
“When I’m looking at the financials of the association, I can understand them at a much deeper level. The biggest benefit is the way I’m learning to approach problems and come up with solutions. I’m excited to come to Wharton every other weekend, even on weekends like the Super Bowl when I have to fly back after two days of classes!”
Read more about Prof. Cade Massey and his course on negotiation and influence.
— Meghan Laska
Posted: April 16, 2019