1979 – Around the World and Close to Home
Iranian revolutionary forces take 49 hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Margaret Thatcher becomes Britain’s first female prime minister, and Egypt and Israel sign a peace treaty. Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear plant releases radiation, car-maker Chrysler asks the federal government for $1 billion in aid, and Magic Johnson’s Michigan State defeats Larry Bird’s Indiana State in the NCAA basketball title game. Local twentysomethings Bill Gates and Paul Allen move their computer software company, Microsoft, from New Mexico to Bellevue, the Hood Canal Bridge sinks during a severe storm, and the Seattle SuperSonics win the NBA championship.
Not Camelot, Just Business
What commenced in a spirit of Camelot is coldly laid bare as a business in the spring of ’79. The Seattle Sounders, five years into their existence and only 20 months removed from their first Cinderella-like Soccer Bowl appearance, are left tattered by infighting surrounding a leaguewide labor dispute.
The NASL Players Association, only seeking to be recognized by owners, votes by 69 percent to authorize a strike for the third weekend of play. The Sounders players meet and all but five vote not to play an April 13 game at Dallas. Two days after that 1-0 loss, they picket the team offices in Pioneer Square. They pointedly say they have no quarrel with Seattle ownership, which has treated them fairly, however, NASL owners elsewhere have been known to release injured players, refuse them proper medical treatment or withhold pay.
Sounders management was not beyond retaliatory tactics. Union representative Tony Chursky, one of the team’s most popular players, was traded in February. Adrian Webster, the new player rep, would be released following the season. The owners would sell the franchise in the offseason, and insiders indicate that while a sale had been contemplated for the past two years, the strike was the final straw.
Until this time, only Major League Baseball had experienced an in-season work stoppage. Over the next decade, MLB would cancel 712 games, and the NFL would go through two strikes totaling 81 days (Note: Following the 1987 NFL strike, the Seahawks were put up for sale by virtually the same ownership group as the original Sounders). The NASL strike lasted just four days, but the Sounders esprit de corps within the squad and the community was broken beyond repair.
General manager Jack Daley blamed the team’s first losing (13-17) record on the strike and its fallout. Attendance fell 16 percent.
Webster, one of the original Sounders dating to 1974, later said, “For the first time in my six years, we had players that were divided.”
“I’m proud of those guys at our club that made a stand,” Webster added, “because they became the pioneers for the welfare of future players in the game. The strike was never just about the players wanting more money. But regardless of what team you were playing for, we felt there needed to be a standard set of rules and regulations.”