While MLB squabbles over tens of millions, USL players fight for living wage

Sports across North America are struggling with the uncertainties of COVID-19 right now. When it comes to the big leagues and college sports, they're talking about matters involving hundreds of millions of dollars.

At lower levels though, the margins are much thinner, like say the USL which North Carolina FC calls home. They want to get back on the field but there are issues to be resolved, both safety related and otherwise.

"First of all, I just want to make it clear that us as the players, we want to play" NCFC captain Nazmi Albadawi told ABC11 Tuesday.

Just like most pro athletes now, Albadawi is eager to be back on the field, within reason. While labor negotiations between Major League Baseball's millionaire players and billionaire owners are grabbing headlines, a similar give and take is unfolding in the USL, just with far fewer zeros.

"The USL board came in and surprised the PA (Players Association) with a proposal that was almost disrespectful. With what they offered to players, we were all shocked. It was a united voice from all the players saying there's no way we're going to accept this proposal. When I tell you that it's probably less than minimum wage for like working for a month, I think I'd be in the right place by saying that."

The players made a counter proposal: a 10% salary cut for those of them making more than $2,000 a month as long as it's matched by the league offices, a new minimum salary of $20,000 starting next year and more frequent negotiating sessions until a deal is done.

"I think the PA did a great job of putting something together that not only benefited the players but the owners as well," said Albadawi. "I know the PA presented that to the board yesterday and then that's as far as I know."

Team owner Steve Malik told ABC11 today he couldn't speak for the league. Albadawi says there is no ill will amongst the players towards Malik individually.

"Steve's done everything that we could ask for from him as an owner. And so, we understand financially that he's in a bit of a tough situation. As well, he's got us and the women's team and he's the only owner in the league with that ability or so I believe. I know that he cares about us as players."

Safety concerns obviously will play a huge role in the USL's eventual return. Albadawi said he'll comply with whatever conditions are eventually decided upon by local health officials and the league.

"I'd like to play again, if we're able to, in a safe and healthy manner. I mean, I prefer probably not to fly, just yet but if we have to, that's my job to do it then I will do it."
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.