Here we go again.
Two weeks ago, at the height of the union protests in Wisconsin, NY Representative Charlie Rangel decides that losing the ability to collectively bargain is “close to slavery:”
“Collective bargaining is something that is so close to slavery in terms of abolishing it, that it is not an American concept to tell people that they cannot discuss their economic position.”
Slavery. As in, that institution where you’re just a piece of property, where you got separated from your family at the whim of the slave owner, where you had no freedom (and to attempt to gain it could mean your life), and where the bullwhip was used with impunity?
Uh, ok, Charlie.
Fast forward 2 weeks. We now have a new union battle taking center stage, between players and owners in the NFL. I won’t go into the details of conflict, or of the pending lawsuit. But Adrian Peterson, star running back for the Minnesota Vikings and the-running-back-everyone-wants-on-their-fantasy-team, has now followed Mr. Rangel’s lead. In an interview with Yahoo! Sports’ “Shutdown Corner” blog, Peterson says this in reference to the current situation:
It’s modern-day slavery, you know?
Now, when I heard about this, of course I’m thinking that he is out of his mind. NOTHING compares to slavery! He has even received negative feedback from many directions, including fellow NFL players. But then, I did something that most people don’t bother to do–I read the entire interview.
I’m still not fond of the analogy, because just as I felt about Rangel’s remark, no one is being forced to stay on the job, no one is losing their freedom, and certainly no one is getting whipped. But I do have some sympathy here different from my thoughts on the Wisconsin situation, the biggest being the conflict between the NFL and the owners is a debate over profit sharing in a private sector organization. Also, there is this interesting comparison (by way of Dave Zirin at The Nation) from former NFL player Anthony Prior, author of the book Slave Side of Sunday, where he draws an analogy of playing in the NFL vs being a slave:
“Black players have created a billion-dollar market but have no voice in the industry, no power. That sounds an awful lot like slavery to me. On plantations slaves were respected for their physical skills but were given no respect as thinking beings. On the football field, we are treated as what appears like gods, but in fact this is just the ‘show and tell’ of the management for their spectators. In reality, what is transpiring is that black athletes are being treated with disrespect and degradation. As soon as we take off that uniform, behind the dressing room doors, we are less than human. We are bought and sold. Traded and drafted, like our ancestors, and the public views this as a sport, ironically the same attitude as people had in the slavery era.”
Zirin also has an interesting comparison of what players go through at the combine vs how slaves were treated, traded, and evaluated.
Ultimately, while I don’t like at all using the slavery comparison to discuss modern day issues, I have to admit that maybe, on occasion, there is no better way to getting the point across. But I’m sure there will be debate, discussion, and outrage every time it happens.