Worst Work Stoppages in Pro Sports History
Owners vs. players. Empty stadiums. No games. The NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB are rife with epic labor battles.
Worst Work Stoppages in Pro Sports History
The dynamic in professional sports began to change with the advent of free agency in the 1970s. Team owners no longer held all the cards. Now, players were able to have some say over their future (and salary), and the response from the owners was to try and squash this newfound freedom.
Over the years, this working relationship has led to some epic battles between the two sides, including one instance where an entire season was canceled and one where the World Series sat on the bench for the first time in almost a century.
These are the worst work stoppages in the history of professional sports.
23. 1996 National Basketball Association Lockout
Start date: July 10, 1996
End date: July 10, 1996
Days of work missed: 0
Notable figures: NBA Players Association executive director Alex English (interim), NBAPA chief negotiator Jeffrey Kessler, NBA commissioner David Stern, NBA free agent Shaquille O'Neal
Key quote: "In the end, the 10-minute lockout will be remembered as just a blip on the screen. We have a deal. That's the important thing." —NBAPA chief negotiator Jeffrey Kessler
Did You Know: 1996-97 NBA Season
The 1996 NBA lockout threatened to keep fans from seeing what would be regarded as possibly the greatest rookie class in NBA history.
Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, Ray Allen, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Jermaine O'Neal, Ben Wallace and Stephon Marbury all made their debuts in 1996.
And Bryant, Iverson and Nash all went on to win NBA Most Valuable Player awards in their careers.
Bottom Line: 1996 NBA Lockout
The shortest lockout in pro sports history lasted just a few hours and centered around how the players and owners would split $50 million in profit from television revenue. The original proposal from the owners was 50/50, and the union wanted more.
The lockout couldn't have come at a worse time for the owners because so much was riding on making sure the next season started on time. The NBA was soaring in popularity after the return of Michael Jordan and the Bulls' record 72-win season and title the previous year.
There was also the matter of a stacked free-agent class led by Orlando Magic center Shaquille O'Neal, who had a megadeal with the Lakers being held up by the strike. The owners caved quickly and agreed to an additional $14 million per season in revenue over the last four years of the current collective bargaining agreement.
22. 1985 Major League Baseball Strike
Start date: Aug. 6, 1985
End date: Aug. 7, 1985
Days of work missed: 2 days
Notable figures: MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth, MLB Players Association executive director Donald Fehr (acting), MLB owners' chief negotiator Lee MacPhail
Key quote: "They [Lee MacPhail and Donald Fehr] found a path and did their job. I had no role." —MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth
Did You Know: 1985 MLB Season
One of the better postseasons in the 1980s went down in 1985.
The ALCS went to seven games, the NLCS was six games, and the World Series between the Royals and Cardinals had seven games, with the Royals coming out on top.
Cincinnati's Pete Rose also broke the MLB career hits record.
Bottom Line: 1985 MLB Strike
The mid-1980s in MLB are most properly defined by three lawsuits brought against the owners by the MLBPA in 1985, 1986 and 1987 that accused the owners of collusion — with the MLBPA winning each one.
What's that mean? One rich guy owner tells another rich guy owner to say he's lost money when he's really making money — cook the books — and if they get enough of them to do it, it drives down players' salaries.
The collusion in these cases was bad enough in 1985 that MLB commissioner Peter Ueberroth — a man who works for the owners — went into clubhouses and stated he was opposed to the salary cap owners were proposing.
The end result was owner contributions to the pension fund more than doubling to $33 million annually, no salary cap, and players still got paid for the two days they were on strike and made up all but one missed game by the end of August.
21. 1980 Major League Baseball Strike
Start date: April 1, 1980
End date: April 8, 1980
Days of work missed: 8 days
Notable figures: MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller, MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn, Houston Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan
Key quote: "Each club owner met his particular team representative in the room and sat beside him. There was no bargaining across the table. It was pure con, with the owners giving the poor athletes that good old boy stuff. 'We think a lot of you.'" —MLBPA Executive Director Marvin Miller
Did You Know: 1980 MLB Season
The 1980 season belonged to the Phillies.
They won their first World Series title since 1940, third baseman Mike Schmidt swept the National League Most Valuable Player and World Series MVP and Phillies pitcher Steve Carlton won the NL Cy Young Award.
Just as big a story was Royals third baseman George Brett coming up just short of the first .400 batting average since 1941.
Bottom Line: 1980 MLB Strike
MLB owners were scared out of their minds when Nolan Ryan signed a four-year free-agent contract with the Houston Astros in 1980 and his salary hit the $1 million per season mark — the first player to do so in MLB history. So owners put curbing free agency on their list of to-dos.
The players had the upper hand, though, because they had longtime MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller, one of the most influential figures in the history of professional baseball, on their side.
Miller played owners like a fiddle over and over again, and in this case, he had the players go on strike for the last eight days of spring training but set the final date for the strike decision as May 23. Which meant they could go back to work, start the season, then walk out — a way worse look for the owners.
Owners caved to some demands, temporarily, but it was just buying more time. Both sides said they'd come back to the table in 1981.
20. 1968 National Football League Lockout
Start date: July 3, 1968
End date: July 15, 1968
Days of work missed: 13 days
Notable figures: NFL Players Association president/Detroit Lions guard John Gordy, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle
Key quote: "John [Gordy] was one of the cornerstones of our union. Everybody thought very highly of John. He led NFL players into their first strike. It was a short one, but he wanted to prove the point that they would do it." —Former NFLPA interim executive director Richard Berthelsen
Did You Know: 1968 NFL Season
The 1968 season was historic because of the New York Jets' victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III — one of the greatest upsets in sports history and the first time the AFL ever won the world championship.
It was also the first year the AFL and NFL combined for one draft, with Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive tackle Ron Yary picked No. 1 overall by the Minnesota Vikings.
Bottom Line: 1968 NFL Lockout
The NFL Players Association ended its decade-long battle for legitimacy in 1968 when it officially became a union — the same year the MLB Players Association signed its first collective bargaining agreement.
The NFLPA picked longtime Detroit Lions offensive lineman John Gordy as its president and his leadership then set the tone for the NFLPA to this day. Gordy led the NFLPA into the first work stoppage in NFL history, and even though the owners conceded the demands of the players were meager, rookie salaries stayed at a minimum of $9,000, veteran salaries stayed at a minimum of $10,000, and players continued to receive $50 for exhibition games, which was big because there was no arbitration process in place yet.
The biggest leap forward from the dispute was the owners agreed to put $1.5 million into the players' pension fund, and it set a standard moving forward for NFL labor disputes.
19. 1976 Major League Baseball Lockout
Start date: March 1, 1976
End date: March 17, 1976
Days of work missed: 17 days
Notable figures: MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller, pitcher Andy Messersmith, pitcher Dave McNally
Key quote: "It was less of an economic issue at the time than a fight for the right to have control over your own destiny. It was a matter of being tired of going in to negotiate a contract and hearing the owners say, 'OK, here's what you're getting. Tough luck.'" —Andy Messersmith
Did You Know: 1976 MLB Season
The 1976 season was the crowning achievement of the Cincinnati Reds' "Big Red Machine" dynasty as the franchise won its second consecutive World Series and is still the last MLB team to go unbeaten through the postseason.
It was also the second straight NL Most Valuable Player award for Reds second baseman Joe Morgan.
Bottom Line: 1976 MLB Lockout
MLB Players Association executive director Marvin Miller made his bones as a union advocate working with leadership for the United Steelworkers and had a reputation as a man who was not to be trifled with in labor disputes.
The MLB lockout in 1976 was one of the many times he pantsed MLB owners in front of the entire sporting world, finding a loophole in the archaic MLB reserves clause — the rule that said once a player's contract was up, the rights automatically stayed with the team unless they decided to trade the player.
Miller somehow convinced pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally to pitch in 1975 without a contract, which made them free agents in 1976. The owners were furious at this development to begin with, then got really mad when MLB arbitrator Peter Seitz lost both cases in arbitration.
MLB owners fired Seitz, locked out the players during training camp and ultimately agreed to a four-year contract in July that allowed for free agency.
18. 1973 Major League Baseball Lockout
Start date: Feb. 8, 1973
End date: Feb. 25, 1973
Days of work missed: 17 days
Notable figures: St. Louis Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons, MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller, MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn
Key quote: "When someone from the establishment says, 'This is what you'll do,' I just felt bulletproof enough, I was just naive enough and I was just political enough to say … 'I'm not going to do it.'" —St. Louis Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons
Did You Know: 1973 MLB Season
Getting to see major leaguers play in 1973 would've been a classic baseball lover's dream. There was something great everywhere.
Just take a look at the statistical leaders from across the league for the year: Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Willie Stargell, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Lou Brock.
Be still, my beating heart!
Bottom Line: 1973 MLB Lockout
St. Louis Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons was one of the best players in the game when he refused to sign his contract following the 1972 season, and he came up with a novel concept for fighting back — he threatened to take the issue to arbitration court.
The owners saw the writing on the wall, and instead of losing regular-season contests like they'd done in 1972, they decided to temporarily lock the players out for part of spring training while they worked out how arbitration would work.
The final decision was a three-year collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players union that gave neutral arbitrators the power to decide between a player's salary request and the owner's offer.
The process went pretty smoothly, and no games were missed, but it was short-lived. This was the second of five MLB work stoppages from 1972 to 1981.
17. 1974 National Football League Strike
Start date: July 1, 1974
End date: Aug. 10, 1974
Days of work missed: 41 days
Notable figures: NFL Players Association executive director Ed Garvey, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end John Mackey, NFL Players Association president Bill Curry
Key quote: "I hope that even with the mistakes we made, the things we did lingered with the league and set the groundwork for player rights and mobility." -NFL Players Association president Bill Curry
Did You Know: 1974 NFL Season
As the NFL (and America) transitioned into the disco era, we also were getting a first glimpse of what would become one of the league's greatest dynasties — the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year Joe Greene, NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Jack Lambert and quarterback Terry Bradshaw, the Steelers won their first Super Bowl with a 16-6 win over the Vikings.
Running back Franco Harris brought home Super Bowl Most Valuable Player honors.
Bottom Line: 1974 NFL Strike
The reason for the 1974 NFL strike was noble. It stemmed from an antitrust lawsuit filed by Hall of Fame tight end and former NFL Players Association president John Mackey against the NFL and commissioner Pete Rozelle in 1972.
The lawsuit challenged the archaic "Rozelle Rule" that made free agency impossible in the NFL because Rozelle controlled everything in regards to compensation for teams who had players signed by other teams in free agency.
While Mackey eventually won the lawsuit in 1976, the bonehead decision to go on strike by NFLPA executive director Ed Garvey and NFLPA president Bill Curry backfired, mainly because they decided to take their stand during Hall of Fame weekend.
This move was viewed as disrespectful to the NFL legends being inducted that weekend, the public turned on the NFLPA for not being able to read the room, and the players went back to work with none of their concerns addressed.
16. 1970 National Football League Strike/Lockout
Start date: July 13, 1970
End date: Aug. 3, 1970
Days of work missed: 21 days
Notable figures: NFL Players Association president John Mackey, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney
Key quote: "John Mackey led the fight for fairness with a brilliance and ferocious drive. His passion continues to define our organization and inspire our players. His unwavering loyalty to our mission and his exemplary courage will never be forgotten." —NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith
Did You Know: 1970 NFL Season
The first year of the NFL as we know it today — with the AFC and NFC — was 1970. That meant the introduction of 10 teams from the American Football League to the NFL.
Those teams were the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, Boston Patriots, New York Jets, Houston Oilers, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals.
Oh, and we got the first episode of "Monday Night Football."
Bottom Line: 1970 NFL Strike/Lockout
There was bound to be a lot of confusion over who was in charge of what when the AFL and NFL merged before the 1970 season. The man players from both leagues turned to as their collective voice to the owners was legendary Baltimore Colts tight end John Mackey, who led the way.
One of the first big actions from the owners was to lock out all veteran players from training camps. This action didn't take long to get answered with a clapback from Mackey, the first president in the history of the NFL Players Association.
The new agreement paid off for the players. The NFLPA got a four-year, $19.1 million deal for their pension fund in owner contributions, increased minimum player salaries and a collective bargaining agreement that went through 1973.
15. 1990 Major League Baseball Lockout
Start date: Feb. 15, 1990
End date: March 18, 1990
Days of work missed: 32 days
Notable figures: MLB commissioner Fay Vincent, MLB Players Association executive director Donald Fehr, Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig
Key quote: "Can anyone remember the details of the baseball strike of 1985, which lasted two days? How about the spring lockout of ’76, which Bowie Kuhn ended? The same will be said for 1990." —Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell
Did You Know: 1990 MLB Season
The 1990 season gave little evidence of what a tumultuous decade it would be for MLB — mainly because it was pretty awesome.
The Reds topped the heavily favored Oakland Athletics and American League Most Valuable Player Rickey Henderson in the World Series for their first title since 1976.
It was also one of the last seasons before performance-enhancing drugs started to become widespread throughout baseball.
Bottom Line: 1990 MLB Lockout
The NFL was yet to overtake Major League Baseball as America's most popular professional sport in 1990, and MLB owners were among the first to have to bear the brunt of rapidly rising salaries for the top players, which were beginning to top $3 million per year by 1989.
Looking for any way to stem that rising tide, owners proposed a system in which players got paid for their performance for their first six seasons by a bizarre, peer-rating system. The players rejected this, flatly, and came back with a much different proposition that kept the owners on their heels — mainly centered around increasing the minimum salaries for players, which was at a paltry $68,000.
The players came out on top in this one. They were asking for minimum player salaries to be increased to $112,500 and ended up with $110,000. They also were able to flatly reject the pay-for-performance model the owners proposed.
Behind closed doors, the lockout was said to have been orchestrated by a handful of owners led by Milwaukee's Bud Selig, who took over as acting commissioner in 1992.
14. 1995 National Basketball Association Lockout
Start date: July 1, 1995
End date: Sept. 18, 1995
Days of work missed: 74 days
Notable figures: NBA commissioner David Stern, NBA Players Association executive director Simon Gourdine, Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan, New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing, Milwaukee Bucks forward Glenn Robinson
Key quote: "It's a shame that the success we and our players have enjoyed as a result of working together is now in jeopardy." —NBA commissioner David Stern
Did You Know: 1995-96 NBA Season
Michael Jordan returned to the NBA at the end of the 1994-95 season, and the Bulls lost to the Orlando Magic in the 1995 Eastern Conference finals. So there was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding the next season and Jordan's quest to return to the NBA Finals.
He and the Bulls responded with what was, up until then, the greatest regular season in NBA history, winning a record 72 games and defeating the Seattle SuperSonics for the NBA title.
Bottom Line: 1995 NBA Lockout
The first work stoppage in NBA history came as the league was becoming more powerful than it had ever been and after the absolute implosion of the MLB due to its own labor dispute, which canceled the 1994 World Series.
All of the big issues were on the table for the NBA: salary cap, free agency, a rookie salary cap, and revenue sharing. Negotiations broke down when stars Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing threatened to decertify the union, and commissioner David Stern was forced to lock the players out.
Jordan and Ewing, aided by agent David Falk, proceeded with their plans with the thought they could sue and negotiate a better deal with the league. The biggest impact of the lockout we still see to this day was the installation of a rookie salary cap that previously did not exist.
It was put in place as a direct result of the Milwaukee Bucks being strong-armed into giving 1994 No. 1 overall pick Glenn Robinson a 10-year, $68 million deal.
13. 1992 National Hockey League Strike
Start date: April 1, 1992
End date: April 10, 1992
Days of work missed: 10 days
Notable figures: NHL president John Ziegler, NHL Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow, Los Angeles Kings center Wayne Gretzky
Key quote: "The bottom line is, the game won't suffer. There will be a Stanley Cup this year, and we all know that's very important." —Los Angeles Kings center Wayne Gretzky
Did You Know: 1991-92 NHL Season
The Pittsburgh Penguins won their second straight Stanley Cup in 1992, and if you want to be cynical about it, you could tag this as the last time the NHL was even remotely close to the same level as the three other professional sports leagues in North America.
Following the season, the NHL began to see a steep decline in popularity that continues through today.
Bottom Line: 1992 NHL Strike
One way to look at the 1992 NHL strike was it represented the players taking ownership of their rights as a union and standing up to the owners. Another way to look at it? This was the beginning of the end for the most popular stretch in NHL history.
It led to a progression of work stoppages that resulted in the league's television ratings plummeting to below "SpongeBob Squarepants" reruns on Nickelodeon before the 2004-05 season was canceled. Which actually happened, believe it or not.
In 1992, however, players were charting new ground with the first strike in league history and were able to fend off a salary cap and gain large increases in playoff bonuses and requested changes in free agency and arbitration.
The strike shook the foundations of the NHL so much the owners fired president John Ziegler and brought over the NHL's first commissioner, Gary Bettman, a longtime NBA vice president.
12. 1972 Major League Baseball Strike
Start date: April 1, 1972
End date: April 13, 1972
Days of work missed: 13 days
Notable figures: MLB Players Association executive director Marvin Miller, MLB lead negotiator John Gaherin, Oakland Athletics outfielder Reggie Jackson
Key quote: "I think it's fair to say nobody ever wins in a strike situation. This one is no exception. We're not going to claim victory even though our objectives were achieved." —MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller
Did You Know: 1972 MLB Season
The biggest on-field impact from the strike was that teams played an imbalanced schedule. Some played 156 games. Others played 155 or 154 games. This can create problems when it takes every game to determine who wins division titles.
In 1972, the American League East was where it had the biggest impact. The Detroit Tigers played one more game than the second-place Boston Red Sox and won the title by a half-game.
The Oakland Athletics won the World Series in seven games over the Cincinnati Reds.
Bottom Line: 1972 MLB Strike
The first work stoppage in MLB history came about with the players asking for modest concessions. They wanted a $1 million payment to their pension fund (they settled on $500,000), and they wanted owners to agree to arbitration with contract disputes, which they did.
While the monetary concessions weren't over the moon, the 1972 strike is notable because it showed the players were willing to sit out games to make a point. MLBPA executive director Marvin Miller wasn't sure the players were willing to take that big of a step but became convinced on a flight to negotiations, when he sat in front of Oakland Athletics superstar Reggie Jackson on the way to a players' meeting in Phoenix.
"Goddammit, there are just some times you've got to stand up for your rights!" Jackson shouted during the meeting as players waffled on whether to strike.
11. 2012-13 National Hockey League Lockout
Start date: Sept. 15, 2012
End date: Jan. 6, 2013
Days of work missed: 113 days
Notable figures: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr, Washington Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin
Key quote: "If they need us, how do I say it, if they're gonna cut the percentage of the contract and years, I don't think lots of guys who signed American deals are gonna come back and play here. It's not reasonable to be here. You have to think of the future, you have to think of your family." —Washington Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin
Did You Know: 2012-13 NHL Season
NHL players already had a pretty excellent blueprint for what to do during a strike — fan out across the globe to play in foreign leagues, just like they did during the 2004-05 lockout.
Almost 200 players went to the best European leagues, and a number of players went down to play in the AHL while the NHL was on pause, which was one notable difference from the previous time.
Bottom Line: 2012-13 NHL Lockout
At least the NHL learned from its disastrous 2004-05 labor dispute, in which the entire season was lost. Wait a second, getting word that is not what happened.
The NHL lost almost half of its season and its All-Star Game in 2012-13 because of a work stoppage, with the sticking point being how the league's revenue was divvied up. The owners wanted the players to come off their 57 percent share. They also wanted contracts to be able to have limits to a certain amount of years.
It's hard to look at this one as going anything but the owners' way. The revenue split went down to 50-50, and the contract limits were approved. Once again, the thing hurt the most was the bottom line for both owners and players. Ownership lost an estimated $2 billion in revenue, and players lost about $800 million in salaries.
10. 2011 National Football League Lockout
Start date: March 12, 2011
End date: July 25, 2011
Days of work missed: 132 days
Notable figures: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees
Key quote: "I’d like on behalf of both sides to apologize to the fans — for the last five, six months we’ve been talking about the business of football and not what goes on the field and building the teams in each market." —New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft
Did You Know: 2011 NFL Season
When you have a great product, like the NFL knew it had in 2011, you make sure it makes it to the fans.
With the lockout behind them, teams put on a show in 2011 with one of the more exciting seasons in recent history.
It cemented the new, high-octane offense era with three of the top 10 single-season passing marks of all time and another stunning Super Bowl upset by the Giants over the Patriots.
Bottom Line: 2011 NFL Lockout
Eighteen years of relative peaceful labor relations between NFL owners and the NFL Players Association came to an end before the 2011 season, when the owners decided to not renew the collective bargaining agreement that had been rolling over since 1992.
This work stoppage, however, would be different from almost every other in the history of pro sports because both sides came away with some pretty amazing wins. It's also the only time in the history of NFL labor battles where you could make an argument the players got what they wanted.
This was in big part due to their solidarity and the out-front leadership of the league's three most high profile players: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, who put their names on a lawsuit on behalf of the players.
The biggest win for the players? No 18-game schedule, no extra $1 billion off the top for the owners, an additional $1 billion for retired players, increased days off and fewer offseason requirements. And, most importantly, the season wasn't affected.
The new collective bargaining agreement was a 10-year fix. It's not up until after the 2021 season.
9. 1994-95 National Hockey League Lockout
Start date: Oct. 1, 1994
End date: Jan. 11, 1995
Days of work missed: 104 days
Notable figures: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NHL Players Association executive director Bob Goodenow, Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios
Key quote: "If I was Gary Bettman, I'd worry about my family, about my well-being right now. Some crazed fan or even a player, who knows, might take it into his own hands and figure if they can get him out of the way, this might be settled. You hate to see something like that happen, but he took the job." —Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Chris Chelios
Did You Know: 1994-95 NHL Season
The fallout from the 1994-95 NHL lockout can be tied to three small-market teams being forced to move for economic reasons.
The Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver and became the Colorado Avalanche, the Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes, and the Hartford Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes, ending the run of one of the greatest jerseys in professional sports history.
Bottom Line: 1994-1995 NHL Lockout
The seeds of animosity that led to the NHL becoming the first professional sports league to cancel a whole season were sowed during the 1994-95 NHL lockout.
That's when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, hired in 1992 after the last labor dispute, approached the players with a "luxury tax" proposition that was a thinly veiled attempt at instituting a salary cap the players saw right through.
While Bettman's intentions were probably on point — he was most concerned with protecting small-market teams — there was just something about him that got under the skin of players. Nobody more than Blackhawks star Chris Chelios, who essentially threatened Bettman's life with some widely condemned remarks.
The season was cut in half to 48 games after the players got their way, but the bad blood between the two sides continued to simmer below the surface until the epic collapse one decade later.
8. 2012 National Football League Referee Lockout
Start date: June 4, 2012
End date: Sept. 26, 2012
Days of work missed: 114 days
Notable figures: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Referees Association president Scott Green, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Key quote: "Never thought I would be excited for the refs to come back to work, but it's about time. It was definitely necessary!" —Cleveland Browns return specialist Josh Cribbs after the 2012 NFL referee lockout ended
Did You Know: 2012 NFL Referee Lockout
People remember the egregiously blown call at the end of the Seahawks' 14-12 win over the Packers in a "Monday Night Football" game — otherwise known as the "Fail Mary" or "Inaccurate Reception" game — as the tipping point in the 2012 NFL referee lockout.
The return of the referees three days later even brought a statement from President Barack Obama, who said he was "pleased that the two sides have come together."
Bottom Line: 2012 NFL Referee Strike
Isn't it amazing the things we take for granted in sports? Like professional referees?
The first month of the 2012 season was the NFL's version of "Freaky Friday" as every fan in the country begged for the return of, wait for it, the refs. Up until 2012, most NFL fans didn't realize that NFL referees weren't full-time employees who had full-time jobs and worked during the week, then worked the games on the weekends. And those were the good ones.
Pressing for full-time status with the NFL — a cost of about $3.2 million, or four-hundredth of a percent of what the NFL makes every year — they threatened to go on strike and were locked out by the league. Things came off the rails quickly as Division I college referees were told double-duty wouldn't be permitted.
This left a group of Arena Football League, small-college and high school refs brought up to decide games, and the ensuing litany of bad calls almost caused a national crisis. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers had the most pointed comments, questioning if the NFL cared about the integrity of the game.
In the end, the NFL caved, and the refs got what they wanted.
7. 2011 National Basketball Association Lockout
Start date: July 1, 2011
End date: Dec. 8, 2011
Days of work missed: 161 days
Notable figures: NBA commissioner David Stern, NBA Players Association president Derek Fisher, NBPA director Billy Hunter, Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade
Key quote: "You're not pointing your finger at me. I'm not your child." —Miami Heat guard Dwayne Wade to NBA commissioner David Stern during labor negotiations
Did You Know: 2011-12 NBA Season
The 2011-12 NBA season was shortened from 82 to 66 games, but the real fallout seemed to be with the lack of proper preparation by the players before the season started.
This seemed to result in a rash of injuries to some of the league's top talent — most notably reigning MVP Derrick Rose, who tore his ACL in the first round of the playoffs and never saw his career fully recover.
Bottom Line: 2011 NBA Lockout
NBA commissioner David Stern made a habit of bullying the NBA Players Association into getting what he wanted for over two decades. In 2011, he thought he could threaten players with canceling the season — the same tactic he used in 1998 — to get them to reduce their 57 percent share of NBA profits, increase revenue-sharing agreements and change salary-cap structures to benefit the smaller-market teams.
The problem was, Stern misread the room and a new generation of players in leadership roles. When the longtime commissioner began to make his argument and began pointing at Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade to single him out, Wade and the players in the room turned on Stern, yelling at him and threatening to walk out.
The players won out, gave some mild concessions, and the regular season was shortened to 66 games.
6. 1987 National Football League Strike
Start date: Sept. 22, 1987
End date: Oct. 15, 1987
Days of work missed: 24 days
Notable figures: NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, Washington Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs
Key quote: "The NFL players strike has crumbled, dissolved, come apart at the seams, you name it. As of now, the NFL owners are in the driver's seat." —ABC News anchor Peter Jennings
Did You Know: 1987 NFL Season
One team took a different approach to using "scabs" to fill out their roster — the Washington Redskins.
General manager Bobby Beathard and head coach Joe Gibbs went all-in on trying to put together the best team they could with replacement players, winning all three replacement games.
Most notably, the Redskins' replacement players beat the actual lineup for the Dallas Cowboys, then went on to win the Super Bowl.
Bottom Line: 1987 NFL Strike
While the 1982 NFL strike was much more damaging to the league — costing two months of the regular season — the 1987 NFL strike is burned into the public consciousness because of the infamous use of replacement players for three games.
The labor dispute between the owners and players centered around free agency. Once again, the players found themselves outmanned and outflanked by the owners. The biggest turning point in the strike was when a group of the NFL's elite players crossed picket lines to rejoin their teams, including San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana, New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau, New York Giants linebacker and Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett, who signed a $9.5 million contract and feared losing half of his $6 million annuity.
The players union folded quickly, and the regular season was shortened by one game to 15.
5. 1981 Major League Baseball Strike
Start date: June 12, 1981
End date: July 31, 1981
Days of work missed: 50 days
Notable figures: MLB Players Association executive director Marvin Miller, MLB negotiator Ray Grebey, MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn
Key quote: "When they call me a 'liar' and a 'snake' and cast aspersions on my integrity, I am offended. I boil inside. I can't describe how much it hurts. And my whole family suffers with me." —MLB negotiator Ray Grebey
Did You Know: 1981 MLB Season
The 1981 MLB season goes down in history as one of the more mismanaged in the history of professional sports.
After returning from the strike, the decision was made to split the season into two halves and have the winners from the first half and second half play in a League Division Series to advance to the League Championship Series.
The problem was the two teams with the best records in the National League were the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals — teams who would've won the NL West and NL East in a normal season but did not even make the playoffs.
Bottom Line: 1981 MLB Strike
Imagine the frustration of the Major League Baseball Players Association when the owners and lead negotiator Ray Grebey came back to the table trying to cast aside the MLBPA's hard-earned gains in free agency. The two main issues for the owners were compensation when they lost players to free agency and the amount of time players had to be in the league before they were eligible for free agency.
The public was quick to take sides in the battle, with Sports Illustrated even running a cover with the headline: "Strike! The Walkout the Owners Provoked" during the negotiations. MLB commissioner Bowie Kuhn mostly stepped away from the dispute, leaving most of the anger to be directed toward Ray Grebey, the chief labor negotiator for the owners.
Grebey, who earned the nickname "The Man Who Killed Baseball," actually came out on top in 1981 as players conceded free-agent eligibility wouldn't begin until after six seasons, and the owners were given a pool of unprotected players from the entire league to pick from if they lost a player to free agency.
4. 1982 National Football League Strike
Start date: Sept. 21, 1982
End date: Nov. 16, 1982
Days of work missed: 57 days
Notable figures: Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle, NFL Players Association executive director Ed Garvey
Key quote: "I guess I'll do just about anything for money." —Washington Redskins running back John Riggins after playing in an unofficial "NFC-AFC All-Star Game" during the 1982 NFL strike in front of fewer than 10,000 people
Did You Know: 1982 NFL Season
The strike led to one of the most buck-wild seasons in NFL history — one that can be examined almost entirely for its weirdness.
Nothing underlines this more than the selection of Washington Redskins kicker Mark Mosley as NFL Most Valuable Player, the only special teams player to win the award in league history.
Bottom Line: 1982 NFL Strike
The reason the 1982 NFL strike remains the longest play stoppage in league history is because of the upper hand ownership seems to always have in NFL negotiations.
In this case, however, there were some concessions on the part of the owners since they agreed to a one-time, $60 million payment to the NFL Players Association, upgrades to minimum salaries and enhanced benefits (which were wrapped up in the $60 million payment).
The deal to restart the season had a big helping hand from Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, who bridged the gap between players and owners deftly. Rooney was able to get both sides to agree on a five-year collective bargaining agreement and talked the NFL off the ledge again in 1987 when labor struggles showed their face again.
The 1982 strike cost the NFL over $300 million in revenue, but and the league still was able to have a Super Bowl, which the Redskins won.
3. 2004-05 National Hockey League Lockout
Start date: Sept. 15, 2004
End date: July 22, 2005
Days of work missed: 310 days
Notable figures: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow, New York Rangers center Bobby Holik
Key quote: "As I stand before you today, it is my sad duty to announce ... it no longer is practical to conduct even an abbreviated season. Accordingly, I have no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play for 2004-05. This is a sad, regrettable day that all of us wish could have been avoided." —NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
Did You Know: 2004-2005 NHL Season
The cancellation of the NHL season triggered a massive exodus of players to foreign leagues, with 388 of them going to Europe and Russia.
It also threw into question who would get a franchise-changing player with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft — Canadian teenager Sidney Crosby.
The Penguins got the No. 1 pick and Crosby, who led the team to three Stanley Cup titles and won two NHL Most Valuable Player awards.
Bottom Line: 2004-05 NHL Lockout
If you want to look for the contract that best exemplifies the tipping point in the battle between NHL owners and players, look no further than former New York Rangers center Bobby Holik.
Holik's five-year, $45 million contract with the Rangers signed in 2002 was bought out after two lackluster seasons and pointed to as evidence of the NHL's need for a salary cap. The players rejected six offers from the owners regarding a salary cap and revenue sharing between teams, negotiating up to the last minute and finally turning away an offer of a $42.5 million salary cap and an additional $2.2 million in benefits contributions.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman canceled the 2004-05 season on Feb. 16, 2005, becoming the first professional sports league to cancel an entire season. It was the first year since 1919 there would be no Stanley Cup Final, when the series between the Montreal Canadiens and Seattle Metropolitans was called off because of the Spanish influenza epidemic.
2. 1998-99 National Basketball Association Lockout
Start date: July 1, 1998
End date: Jan. 20, 1999
Days of work missed: 204 days
Notable figures: NBPA executive director Billy Hunter, NBA commissioner David Stern, agent David Falk, NBPA president Patrick Ewing
Key quote: "This is a fight between tall millionaires and short millionaires. As such, it's rather hard for most of us to have a rooting interest in who wins." —Tony Kornheiser, The Washington Post
Did You Know: 1998-99 NBA Season
Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan delayed the official announcement of his (second) retirement until after NBA players agreed to go back to work in solidarity with the union.
This did little to help out the NBPA because Jordan's desire to retire was such commonplace knowledge. He'd talked openly about his plans to walk away from the game after the 1997-98 season.
Bottom Line: 1998-99 NBA Season
Count this as one of the moments in NBA commissioner David Stern's career that backs up the argument he's the greatest commissioner in the history of professional team sports.
As NBA salaries — and player behavior — spiraled out of control and the league's popularity seemed ready to decline in the post-Michael Jordan era, owners pushed for across-the-board salary caps for veterans and rookies alike, along with drug testing for marijuana.
Stern, seeing the economic shambles the league would experience in the future, took the Ivan Drago-esque "if he dies, he dies" approach to the 1998-99 season from the start. After games were canceled through December, Stern set early January as the deadline for when he would cancel the whole season if a deal wasn't in place.
The players, desperate and unwilling to miss the whole season, caved to the owners' demands almost across the board and the league resumed play with a shortened season of 50 games. It was the first implementation of a salary cap in the history of professional team sports. Now, every league has some form of this.
1. 1994-95 Major League Baseball Strike
Start date: Aug. 12, 1994
End date: April 2, 1995
Days of work missed: 232 days (World Series canceled)
Notable figures: MLB commissioner Bud Selig (acting), MLPA executive director Donald Fehr, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotamayor
Key quote: "There's an incredible amount of sadness. It is very hard as I told the group on the phone to articulate the poignancy of this moment. There is a failure of so much. Lest anybody not understand, there can't be any joy on any side." —Acting MLB commissioner Bud Selig
Did You Know: 1994-95 MLB Season
The debate about how the 1994 season might have played out is one of the more epic "what if?" arguments in all of sports history.
On the stats side, it's mainly centered around Giants third baseman Matt Williams and Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn. Williams had 43 home runs and was on pace to break Roger Maris' single-season record, while Gwynn was batting .394 and making a serious run at being the first person to bat .400 for a season since Ted Williams in 1941.
On the team side, the canceled season cost the Montreal Expos, the best team in baseball in 1994, a shot at winning the World Series.
Bottom Line: 1994-95 MLB Strike
MLB owners were found liable of collusion in three separate lawsuits brought by the MLB Players Association regarding the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons. Then, they were ordered to pay the players $280 million for salaries lost in 1990.
Reeling from that, and a disastrous television rights deal with CBS, owners proposed a salary cap and revenue-sharing deal in June 1994 that MLBPA executive director Donald Fehr, understandably distrustful of the owners' intentions, rejected.
With no collective bargaining agreement in place, the owners decided to withhold a $7.8 million payment to the MLBPA pension plan due the same month. The players, backed into a corner, set Aug. 11 as their strike date. The season was canceled on Sept. 14 by acting commissioner Bud Selig, resulting in the first year without a World Series since 1904.
Only an injunction from future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, then presiding in the infamous U.S. Southern District in New York, prevented MLB owners from using replacement players and brought the players back in April 1995.
The owners lost $580 million in profits, players lost $230 million in salaries and baseball lost a good majority of its fans, only to see them come back when … well, that's a story for another time.