Leaders from the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball players associations helped unveil a universal declaration of player rights that is designed to establish a new approach to governing sports and protecting athletes.
Among the 17 articles laid out in the declaration are rights to unionize and collectively bargain, express opinions freely and receive equal pay for equal work. The declaration was made Thursday by the World Players Association, which is affiliated with 100 organizations that represent 85,000 professional athletes.
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"It will change the content and the terms under which sport is regulated," said Brandon Schwab, the association's executive director. "And secondly it will change the culture of sport. Sport must now be run in partnership with the players and sport must act proactively to prevent and minimize and address any adverse human rights impacts."
Executive directors DeMaurice Smith of the NFL Players Association, Michele Roberts of the National Basketball Players Association, Don Fehr of the NHL Players' Association and Tony Clark of the Major League Baseball Players Association are part of the group of more than 100 unions that released the declaration.
"The importance of the declaration is actually philosophically bigger than just the issue of collective bargaining," Smith said as the NFLPA hosted the gathering of 40 union representatives. "It's reminding everyone that where we start in this process is the men and women who play sports did not choose to give up the basic human rights that we would want for every worker."
The launch of the universal declaration of player rights comes on the heels of Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players kneeling or sitting during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Roberts said she and members of the NBPA "full-throatedly support" the declaration that seeks to provide athletes worldwide with the type of constitutional protections that exist in the United States.
The World Players Association recently negotiated a binding human rights agreement with FIFA, and Schwab said it is in talks with the International Olympic Committee to amend hosting contracts to add human rights requirements.
Schwab said the declaration came about after surveys of thousands of players and in concert with human rights experts. Smith said a key piece is recognizing that human rights cannot be ignored because players put on uniforms.
"We demand a respect, a certain humanity that comes with who they are before they decided to do what they decided to do," Smith said.