During a tense time between the NFL, its owners and the NFLPA, Sam McCullum was an important figure and leader. After being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in 1974, McCullum was claimed by the Seattle Seahawks in the 1976 expansion draft. As a Seahawk, the former Montana State wide receiver led a pre-game handshake demonstration, planned by the NFLPA, before each preseason game in 1982. This display was a league-wide gesture of solidarity in support of the Percentage of Gross Proposal and a likely strike during the regular season.
In response to the demonstration, then-Seahawks head coach Jack Patera threatened any player who participated with a hefty fine equivalent to a full regular season game check. However, under McCullum’s leadership, the Seahawks participated in the handshake anyway.
The NFLPA asked the National Labor Relations Board to intervene. Under pressure from the NLRB, the NFL Management Council forced Patera to rescind the fine one week later. In response to the public embarrassment caused by this, Patera eventually cut McCullum just before the 1982 season. McCullum was picked up by the Minnesota Vikings shortly after the regular season began and became an active leader for his former team once the strike began that September.
Meanwhile, the NFLPA and McCullum filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Seahawks for illegally cutting McCullum from the team because of his union activity. After a ten-year court battle, McCullum came out victorious and received the largest back pay award in the history of the NLRB at the time.
McCullum now serves as a trustee on the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Board and has been active in the NFLPA Former Players organization since his retirement in 1983.