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NFL, MLB, NHL Unions Come to Defense of ‘Sports Illustrated’ Guild

  • The AFL-CIO released a joint statement from eight pro sports unions calling on SI’s owner and operator to treat its union workers fairly.
  • The outlet’s future hangs in the air over a licensing deal between its two parent companies, and the AFL-CIO said, ‘We will be watching this closely.’
Phil Masturzo-USA TODAY NETWORK

While its future as a publication hangs in the air, Sports Illustrated’s guild got a push of support from a surprising place: the pro sports unions representing the players SI covers. 

SI’s guild recently reached out to various sports leagues as well as the sports council of the AFL-CIO (which represents an array of players associations) to spread awareness of the storied outlet’s rapidly worsening situation, which in January saw numerous guild-covered employees fired or told they would be laid off within 90 days. On Monday, the AFL-CIO, including the NFLPA, NHLPA, MLB Players Association, and WNBPA, among others, released a statement saying the group stands in solidarity with the SI Guild and “will be watching [the situation] closely. (The NBPA, the NBA’s players union, is not a member of the AFL-CIO.)

“If management replaces the brand’s full-time unionized workforce, Sports Illustrated will no longer be Sports Illustrated,” the statement said.

SI, once the standard in sports journalism, is currently in a holding pattern after Authentic, the licensing company that purchased Sports Illustrated for $110 million from Meredith in 2019, terminated the agreement it had with the Arena Group to publish its magazine and website after Arena missed a $3.75 million licensing payment in early January.

In the aftermath of that missed payment, Arena laid off a portion of its staff and told union members they could be terminated in 90 days, depending on the resolution of the licensing deal. The prevailing concern among union members is that Arena will strike a new deal to continue publishing Sports Illustrated but lay off the guild members and replace them with nonunion employees. (In late January the SI Guild filed a labor grievance with the NLRB.)

The AFL-CIO backing is a unique move from its guilds, given the imperfect relationship between players and the media—it’s a rare sign of solidarity that comes at a time when players have myriad new avenues to tell their own stories. “From the playing surface to the press box,” the statement said, “sports jobs are union jobs.”

Authentic has taken additional criticism since Arena’s layoffs after using the Sports Illustrated name to host a Super Bowl party in Las Vegas, which turned a profit of at least several million dollars, according to The Washington Post. SI saw none of that money. 

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