Is Playing in the NFL Bravery or Slavery
Is Your Job Better Than Mine?
As we approach another NFL season, we once again are confronted by the dilemma of players who are protesting the police brutality and inequality towards minorities in the justice systems in America. We have a president that is trying to change the object of the protests into something unpatriotic. Although they could be protesting having to salute a song that was written by a slave owner and devout racist who took joy in seeing freed slaves killed during a war, that is not what the players are protesting about. The craziest part of all of this is the fans who are protesting against the players who are protesting.
This is very conflicting to me because I want to support their right to protest in any way they see fit. At the same time I am trying to consider if every American has the same freedom to protest in this matter at their place of employment. The problem is I can't think of any other job that requires you to stand for the playing of the national anthem other than sporting events and the military. Naturally the military must salute, but not all sporting events are played by professionals. It is hard to compare how this same protest would affect employment in corporate America.
Why is it that everyone is saying that NFL players are slaves to their team owners because they are not allowed to protest on the job without consequences? With the new NFL policy regarding the national anthem, many feel it suppresses the players' rights to freedom of expression.
Who Wants to Play?
When I was a young boy growing up in Cleveland, my Dad took me to my first NFL game when I was five years old to see the Cleveland Browns, featuring the great Jim Brown, play the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a great experience seeing the game live and I remember leaving the game thinking that I wanted to grow up and become a professional football player. I talked about it on the way home and even after I got home. Although my dad was probably pleased to hear some of this talk, he also had his reservations about me becoming a football player. He talked about the risk of injury and also the fact that back in those days, football players didn't make a lot of money.
As years went by and I was considered to be one of the smartest students at my elementary school, he and my mother were more concerned with me having some kind of intellectual occupation. He introduced me to basketball and baseball at a young age also and tried to point out how much safer these sports were. I remember him telling me about how he got injured playing football and how painful the injury was and it caused him to never play again, but when I started playing touch football in the street with kids in the neighborhood, I began to realize I was pretty good as a pass catcher
Then we started to play tackle and I wanted to be Jim Brown, but the running back got tackled a lot more often than the pass catcher, so I started to emulate Paul Warfield. Cleveland was not big on youth football back in those days so I didn't get a chance to play organized football until I got to the tenth grade, which in those days was the first year of high school. I quickly learned that playing in shoulder pads and a helmet was a whole new ball game. It was a lot more physical than playing with your friends on the playground and now I had to compete to get playing time, learn the proper way to tackle, and just learn how to move with that bulky equipment that restricted my vision and agility.
I made the JV team but due to some bad decisions I never got to play in any games. I was between schools in the eleventh grade, but I returned to my home school for the twelfth grade and my friends convinced me to come out for the team. Varsity football was even more physical and I started to realize the fear my dad had about me getting injured. I made the team as a backup defensive back because I learned it was better to hit than be hit. I wasn't too much concerned about broken bones since I had done that falling off of my bike, but I got to see first hand how a concussion changed a person's ability to think. That really scared me and then the ultimate injury happened on my birthday during an NFL preseason exhibition game.
While going out for a pass, Darryl Stingly of the New England Patriots dove for a ball that was thrown low. My favorite player at that time, Jack Tatum dove at the same time and they collided head on. In those days it was considered a legal hit, but in today's game he probably would have been suspended for half the season. The collision resulted with Stingly being paralyzed for life. From that point on I tried to avoid making tackles where I led with my head, but I soon found out that it was a natural reaction in an effort to avoid injury to yourself. I concluded that you had to be really brave and a little bit crazy to play this game, and I no longer wanted to pursue this as a career.
A Matter of Bravery
No one forces a person to play football. It is a decision made by athletically talented individuals, and most are offered a chance to attend college for free if they display certain skills that will make that team better. Professional football players nowadays do make a lot of money so there is heavy competition to get the opportunity to earn a spot on one of these teams. This is no different than the competition that students who want to become doctors and lawyers go through as well. The most talented of these students get offered jobs with the top hospitals and law firms. Just like the football players that don't get drafted by a professional team, these students don't all get jobs with the top hospitals or law firms either. In fact, most kids who go to college and earn a degree don't get hired in their field of study when they graduate.
Even with the football players, just because a team does draft you, it doesn't guarantee that you will make the team. Then there is the risk of injury. An ex-NFL player once told me that the most dangerous part of the season was the preseason when players are competing to make the final roster. Players are trying to make a name for themselves and impress coaches with big plays and big hits. This is why over the years we see fewer players who are starters playing during the preseason. It has become so critical that the starters for most teams don't even play the final preseason game. It is that final preseason game that ultimately determines the final few players that make the team, so most of them are throwing their bodies fearlessly all over the field in order to impress the coaches.
High Paid Slaves
There are protests against the NFL because of the new policy that compare the owners to slave masters because they don't want their players protesting in the manner that they have chosen. When Colin Kaepernick first started protesting, he was sitting on the bench during the national anthem. After talking to Nate Boyer, a military veteran, he started kneeling instead because that's how the military honors a fallen soldier.
So as of now there is a policy in place that says a team will be fined if a player does not stand during the national anthem OR the players who want to protest can remain in the locker room unseen. The latter completely diffuses the whole protest because no attention will be given to the players who don't come out unless the whole team stays in the locker room. As someone pointed out in a comment on this subject last year, college teams don't come out for the national anthem and there are some high school leagues that don't come out. Now this isn't in protest, it's just been the normal policy for years.
But does limiting an employee's right to protest make a team owner a slave master? These players make millions of dollars a year playing a sport that is their job. The people that are the most upset are those that make less than $100,000 a year on their jobs. This is where I'm conflicted. While the players have a right to protest, does that right exist on company time? The biggest issue with that is how the message has been changed and is affecting the revenue taken in by the team owners. If this was happening on any job where it was affecting the business' ability to function, it wouldn't be tolerated.
These people who are upset because the players can't protest, are trying to stand up for millionaires when they probably don't have that same right on their jobs in most cases. In fact, let's not even talk about protesting and see what restrictions you have on your job as an employee. Do all jobs allow you to wear what you want to wear or do you have a dress code? For men that deal with the public, do you have the right to wear your facial hair at any length like athletes do? What about breaks and lunch? What happens if you are a minute late getting back from a break or lunch. What if you are late punching in or out for for work? What is your company's policy for calling in sick or just taking a day off?
Now let's look at some of the NFL's work policies. They work about eight months out of the year. They don't work eight hours a day. I know their team feeds them at least one meal a day where they get the best food to build their bodies.The team provides them with the best travel accommodations. They receive the best health care in the world, and I'm sure you can think of some more perks that I haven't mentioned. Do you really consider this to be slavery especially when the league minimum salary is $480,000 a year?
The sad part of this is you have two different groups of people with different trains of thought boycotting and costing the league money. One group is protesting because they won't let the players protest and the other group is protesting because the league is letting them protest. The players are not protesting how they are being treated, although some feel that Kaepernick is getting a raw deal because he started the protest. The protest has nothing to do with the NFL, nor does it have anything to do with being patriotic or disrespecting the flag.
When confronted by the media, Colin Kaepernick explained how it was not a protest against the national anthem or a flag, but it was a way to draw attention to the misconduct of police officers toward minorities and how they were getting away with murder in most cases. Still, you had people trying to claim that he was protesting the anthem and disrespecting the military. This is one of the major problems with racism in America. A Black person can tell you what they are upset about when it comes to race relations and White people will change it into a different narrative that has nothing to do with his original complaint.
We're going into the third year of protests and not one owner to my knowledge has addressed the topic of police brutality. The closest any owner has come to addressing this problem is Jets owner Christopher Johnson who has pledged to pay the fine if any of his players choose to kneel and will not discipline them for it.
No one is forcing these men to play football. It takes a special talent to earn a spot on an NFL roster. They do it because they love the game. They get paid well for what they do. That is not slavery. Going to work for eight hours a day and forty hours a week to earn a salary you can barely live on is closer to slavery. Working for minimum wage is closer to slavery.
These players are faced with a critical decision because they know that continuing to protest in the manner they have chosen is not working, but they don't want to be told that they can't protest. It's even more disrespectful when the president calls them sons of bitches, which is disrespectful to their mothers also.
Kneeling during a song that lasts less than two minutes has not gotten their message across in the right way to either side of their fans. If you don't support them kneeling, they are being unpatriotic. If you do support them kneeling, then the owners are slave masters for trying to stop them. Neither viewpoint is supporting the issue of police brutality. The players have to realize this is affecting their livelihood and it is now time to call an audible.
Why Boycott the NFL?
One last point about this boycotting. One person chose to protest at his job and a few other players agreed with his cause and joined in. This is an issue that involves every American. No one is boycotting the NBA, MLB, or NHL, as well as any other major sports entity. No one is boycotting any major corporations because they have not spoken up on this issue.
When Muhammed Ali refused to be inducted into the Army, the top athletes from several sports stood with him. None of the people who are boycotting the NFL because they stand behind Colin Kaepernick are going to their jobs and demanding their company do something about this injustice. Colin Kaepernick isn't demanding the NFL do something about it either. If you are really that concerned about how NFL players are treated, go to your job tomorrow and join in Colin Kaepernick's protest police misconduct the best way you see fit.
- Jets owner Christopher Johnson pledges not to punish players who protest
Christopher Johnson said he hopes Jets players will stand but understands if players feel the need to protest, even after a new national anthem policy was reached by owners.
- A reminder that an Army vet suggested Colin Kaepernick kneel during the anthem | For The Win
Kaepernick got the idea from one of the people he's supposedly disrespected.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.