Let’s get one thing straight here: it’s, in many ways, it’s really nice to be an NFL player. It wasn’t by any means nice to be a sharecropper in the Reconstruction era South. You might remember from 9th grade US History that sharecropping was economic slavery is sheep’s clothing (and the wolf wasn’t trying all that hard to hide). Essentially landowners rented their land to be farmed in exchange for a large share of the crop. Farmers rented equipment from the landowners and bought seeds and good for their families from the landowner by borrowing against the years’ crop.
This system always ended in heartbreak because through some force of magic (market exploitation by landowners) famers always ended up owing more than their crops brought . The system kept freed blacks and white trapped in a system where they always had no money, and where black farmers were often persecuted if they tried to leave farms and pursue other work.
I’m sure you’re thinking that sounds nothing like the NFL. Except, fundamentally there are some striking similarities.
Sharecropping’s main goal was to ensure that landowners could maintain cotton production and keep blacks and poor whites in slave like conditions.
The NFL is a non-profit trade associate made up of 32 teams that make money from young (mostly) black men playing a dangerous sport.
So both systems aim to make a profit from young men (primarily from low-income, minority backgrounds). But maybe that’s just a coincidence?
Under both systems economic power is held by a few powerful white men. Maybe that’s a coincidence or a more fundamental problem with American economics and social inequality?
Anyone who makes trouble that threatens the economic power of the system is punished with fines. Uh – oh. That strikes awfully close to home for our dear NFL
If a sharecropper tried to organize with other workers, he might all of a sudden have to pay more for his food – which came from the landowners store, or they might simply be told they now owed the landowner twice as much as before for stressing him out or some other made up reason. I mean the team owners landowners had all the power so they could make up rules and enforce them however they saw fit (I also assume it was perfectly acceptable to punch your wife and that no real consequences would emerge – but that’s another article for a different day).
That’s kind of funny because when an NFL player steps out of line in way that threatens the NFLs economic power – they get fined. Marshawn Lynch refuses to answer media questions making it difficult for the NFL to provide exclusive access to him. He gets fined. Colin Kaepernick gets fined for wearing Beats headphones because the NFL has a contract with Bose that it’s interested in protecting. Players are fined if they wear non-regulation shoes because the NFL has a contract with Nike. That means to keep that contract and the cash that comes from it – the NFL literally fines players for choosing their own shoes.
Players in the league are fined in the event that they tackle in way that might hurt other players. The NFL needs healthy players not because it cares about the long term health of its athletes (it doesn’t) but because it needs farmers – sorry – players to do work on the field so the league can make most of the money from games and pass on a little bit to the players.
Keep in mind, the average team in league is worth $1 billion while the average players makes 1.9 million dollars a year. Additionally - NFL owners regularly see returns of $100 million dollar per team per year. That money comes from the work players put in practice and in on the field.
Now perhaps the NFL is a little more refined (see what I did there) than exploitative landowners in the Reconstruction era South its players can also be fined for domestic violence or ‘obscene gestures’ or a wealth of other personal conduct violations.
However the reality that the NFL punishes players for stepping out of line and hurting the landowners – er sorry – team owners bottom line.
NFL players should be fined for inappropriate behavior – but are we really comfortable with players being fined for behavior that doesn’t hurt anyone? Who does it hurt if Marshawn Lynch doesn’t want to do a press conference? Who does it harm if he wants to pick up a sponsorship and wear gold shoes on the field?
It hurts the NFL because they lose the economic power to deliver players to sponsors and take in huge profits. So maybe Roger Goodell should just ask himself if he’s cool treating players like sharecroppers. Maybe he’ll schedule a press conference – oh just kidding no one can make him do that – he’s the master - er - boss.