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The NFL: Modern-Day Slavery?

In a recent interview with Doug Farrar of Yahoo! Sports, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was asked his opinion about the NFL labor situation. Peterson said, “It’s modern-day slavery, you know?”  On July 29, 2007 Peterson signed a contract with the Vikings that will pay him $40.5 million over 6 years. His guaranteed signing bonus for the contract is worth $17 million. I saw the documentary Roots. Kunta Kinte didn’t make that kind of money.

This is just another example of a young, uneducated, misinformed kid using controversy to make a point. The irony is, the ‘point’ that Peterson has is shared by many Americans. Most Americans feel that we are underpaid, and financially taken advantage of by our employer. Unless of course you worked for Ben & Jerry’s (1). However, comparing the NFL or any employer for that matter to slavery is an egregious error in judgment, and as an African-American Peterson should know better. Peterson was close though in his description of what it’s like to be an employee in 2011 America, he just used the wrong words. As an employee he, and the rest of us, is not a slave, rather an indentured servant. We sign a contract and are bound by the terms for a specified time in exchange for payment. No more, no less. We are Billy Budd and our employer is the HMS Indomitable (2).

Where do I stand on the NFL labor issue? I don’t know, and I don’t care. I have way better things to do than waste my time or brain power thinking of an opinion about whose right in a quarrel over money between billionaires and millionaires. The owners, with or without the team that the own, are rich enough, and the players, despite taking part in a violent game that risks their long-term health, are compensated handsomely. Just how handsomely? The NFL’s average player salary in 2009-10 was $1.896 million, with a median of $790, 000 (USA Today Salaries Database). The top 25 salaries in 2009-10 were allover $12 million, with the highest being Philip Rivers for over $25 million (USA Today Salaries Database). Obviously for employees to make that kind of money the business must be doing well, and the NFL is really doing well. The NFL had a revenue growth of 43% from 2006-09 (Forbes), and generated $9.3 billion last year which is roughly equal to the Gross Domestic Product of Macedonia (Fortune). The future continues to look bright. The following statistics come from a collaboration between Sports Illustrated and Fortune, and are listed in the Scorecard article on page 16 of the March 14 issue of Sports Illustrated. ESPN pays the NFL $1.1 billion per year for broadcasting rights, and NBC pays another $650 million. Nike just paid $1.1 billion to land the official apparel sponsorship. Verizon pays $720 million to be the league’s exclusive wireless provider. Anheuser-Busch pays $1.2 billion to be the NFL’s official beer sponsor. As employees of a seemingly thriving industry, do the players deserve to have a percentage of this trickle down to them?
If yes, then all money made in this country by all businesses should end up trickling down to teachers. Fact: companies can’t make money without employees. Fact: employees can’t have the skills necessary to work for companies without teachers. Teachers educate students into knowledge workers (3) and provide them with the information and skills necessary to add value to the workforce. It is next to impossible to own a business without some form of formal education, as it is next to impossible to work for a business without some form of formal education. However, the problem for teachers is that we work in a non-revenue generating industry, and our salaries reflect that. The highest paid K-12 teacher is currently a high school teacher with a median salary of $43,493 ( The lowest paid K-12 teacher is an elementary school teacher with a median salary of $40,451 ( Comedian Chris Rock, while discussing the discrepancy in earning between whites & blacks, joked that if Bill Gates were to wake up one morning with Oprah Winfrey’s money he’d jump out of a window. What would Adrian Peterson do if he woke up tomorrow morning and was told that he would be paid the equivalent of a public school teacher to run with a football?

1. When Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield founded Ben & Jerry’s they instituted a wages policy that stated no employee’s rate of pay shall exceed seven times that of entry-level employees. In 1995, entry-level employees were paid $8 hourly, and the highest paid employee was President and Chief Operating Officer Chuck Lacey, who earned $150,000 annually. When Ben Cohen resigned as Chief Executive Officer and Ben & Jerry’s announced the search for a new CEO in 1995, the company ended the seven-to-one-ratio policy.

2. Billy Budd is a novel published in 1924 by American author Herman Melville of Moby-Dick fame. The novel tells the story of Billy Budd a seaman who is impressed into indentured servitude aboard the British Royal Navy ship the HMS Indomitable.

3. Knowledge workers are individuals who are valued for their ability to act and communicate with knowledge within a specific subject area. They use research skills to define problems and to identify alternatives in an effort to influence company decisions, priorities and strategies. The term was first coined by Martin Feregrino in 1959.

Keith Detjen
Pierce Arrow Blogger

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