When Ed Garvey, fresh out of law school, first joined a Minneapolis-based law firm as an associate in 1969, he likely did not think it would result in him becoming the NFL Players Association’s first executive director just two years later. But if not for Garvey’s relentless work while at the helm, the many benefits enjoyed by today’s players may have never come to pass.
Following a brief players strike in 1970-71, Garvey was assigned by law firm partner Leonard Linquist to counsel NFLPA president John Mackey as the union negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement. Garvey’s efforts to advance the players’ position forced the owners to legally recognize the NFLPA as a union in 1971, making it the first sports union to ever be certified by the National Labor Relations Board.
As the NFLPA’s executive director for the next 12 years, Garvey led his pro football clients through the first in-season player strike and several antitrust court battles, one of which nixed the “Rozelle Rule” preventing player free agency. Using that leverage, the NFLPA successfully negotiated major concessions from the owners, including a meaningful medical rights package, the right to regulate player agents and close to 50 percent of all revenues going to the players.
Garvey’s groundbreaking work paved the way for a revenue-sharing formula that has now become commonplace – players and owners working together to create the greatest potential for financial growth within the NFL.