Herb's Archive features an article from the New York Times
on Creighton's crucial role in the birth of the NFL Players
Association. The article appeared on September 26, 1982 and was
written by Dave Anderson. (Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame
Creighton Miller outside Municipal Stadium, home of the Cleveland
Browns. (Photo by New York Times/Barney Taxel)
Left, the 1948 Cleveland Browns team photo, with Creighton Miller at
left. At right, a similar picture retouched, to remove Miller,
sometime after he organized the players association in 1956.
Creighton Miller has always laughed
about it, about having been “erased” from an official Cleveland Browns team
photo on Coach Paul Brown’s orders, as if he were Stalin in disgrace. But
the 59-year-old Cleveland attorney, whose unforgiveable crime was organizing
the National Football League Players Association in 1956, is not laughing
about the current strike. He believes the strike could have been avoided if
Ed Garvey, his successor, had negotiated more realistically.
"But what Paul Brown did with the
photo," the 1943 all-America halfback at Notre Dame said, "shows how most of
the owners felt about the players association back then.'
In the original Browns official 1946
team photo that Creighton Miller had seen for years in the club offices, he
is standing at one end of the second row. The caption identifies him as “2nd
Row – Asst. Coach Miller.” But around the time that Paul Brown was
discharged after the 1962 season by the owner Art Modell, the attorney was
in Modell’s office one day. “I was walking around looking at the pictures on
the wall,” he was saying now over the telephone from his Cleveland office.
"I came to the 1946 photo and told Art, 'I was right there but I'm not there
now,' and Art said, 'If you ever need somebody removed from a group photo, I
know a guy who does expert work.' The late Harold Sauerbrei of the Browns
front office then told me that Paul Brown had it done."
Paul Brown, now the general manager of
Cincinnati Bengals, could not be reached for comment on Creighton Miller's
disappearance from the photo, but he mentioned Miller's role in his
Creighton Miller, wrote Paul Brown,
never did any coaching but he was listed as an assistant coach for the 1946
season, so that we could justifiably paying him in order for him to earn
some money to pursue his law studies at Yale." Creighton Miller recalls
advising Paul Brown of the system of play used by Frank Leahy, the Notre
"The last few times I've seen Paul, he
couldn't have been nicer to me," Creighton Miller was saying now. "But he
always reminds me, 'You started that thing.”
Actually, two Brown players, Dante
LavelIi and Abe Gibron, started it. They suggested a players association in
1954 to Creighton Miller, who was then handling some legal matters for the
Browns' front office and also for a few players. Two years later, the
Players Association was formally organized at a meeting in New York before
the 1956 N.F.L. championship game between the Giants and the Chicago Bears.
"The Bears weren't in it then; George
Halas was able to keep them from joining for a couple of years," Creighton
Miller said, referring to the Bears' chairman, now 87 years old," who was
also their coach then. "'They finally came in over his objections. He didn’t
like it but I remember telling him, 'If it's not me, it'll be somebody
else.' I think the most understanding owner was Art Rooney of the Steelers.'
Creighton Miller remembers a
confrontation with Paul Brown.
“His center, Frank Gatski, retired
after the 1956 season and then decided to come back after training camp
started. By then Paul had a new center and said he couldn’t use Frank; he
wanted Frank to go home. I told Paul he had to trade Frank or waive him.
Paul traded Frank to the Detroit Lions, where he played when they wound up
beating the Browns in the N.F.L. championship game that year, 1957, so Paul
was a little cool to me for a while after that."
In retrospect, N.F.L. players were at
the mercy of the owners then.
"They had no injury clause, no life
insurance, no hospitalization and no exhibition-game pay, much less a
pension," said Creighton Miller. "If a guy got hurt, he got paid for a
couple of weeks; or the team settled with him. At first the owners rejected
the idea of a players association, until we threatened them with a $4.2
million antitrust suit, following the Supreme Court ruling in the Radovich
Bill Radovich, once a N.F.L. lineman,
had challenged the Detroit Lions' attempt to prevent him from playing for
the Los Angeles Dons of the All-America Conference. The Supreme Court ruled
in 1957 that the N.F.L., unlike baseball was subject to the antitrust laws.
"The threat of our antitrust suit is
how we got the pension in 1959 and a lot of the other benefits that
followed," Creighton Miller said. “If you look back to what we first got in
1957, it doesn't seem like much, but it was a big breakthrough then. That
year we got the owners to agree to a $5,000 minimum salary, to $50 pay for
an exhibition game, and to an injury clause that continued a player’s salary
and provided medical and hospital care.”
Creighton Miller remained as the
players association's legal counsel until 1967, three years before Ed Garvey
arrived as Its legal counsel and later emerged as executive director .
"I don't even know Garvey, never met
him," Creighton Miller said, 'but I think their proposal demanding 55
percent of the gross income was unrealistic. The players painted themselves
into a comer. Any corporate entity, not just the N.F.L., was never going to
accept that. I think the players deserve more money, but on the merit
system, not a fixed wage scale. Any fixed scale would lose the support of
the more prominent players who are important to the union.
“All this could have been resolved
without a strike. To me, a strike is like what John Foster Dulles used to
say about war when he was Secretary of State -that you could accomplish more
by going to the brink of it. You don't have to get everything at any cost
now. And they really didn't negotiate. With their big, new TV deal, I think
the owners would have been receptive, but when the players stuck with that
55 percent, the owners had nothing to counter with."
But at least none of the N.F.L. players
have been erased from a team photo. Not yet, anyway.
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