Most people know it. Minnesota Viking running Back Adrian Peterson had the balls to say it. In an interview following the NFL Player Union decertification, Peterson was quoted characterizing the current NFL labor situation as modern day slavery.
Here’s what Peterson told Yahoo! Sports reporter Doug Farrar:
“It’s modern-day slavery, you know? With all the money … the owners are trying to get a different percentage, and bring in more money. I understand that; these are business-minded people. Of course this is what they are going to want to do. I understand that; it’s how they got to where they are now. But as players, we have to stand our ground and say, ‘Hey — without us, there’s no football.”
Obviously there is a slight difference as these owners are paying millions of dollars to their “slaves” but, in theory, the structure is basically the same. Think about it. The NFL, from a legal standpoint, is represented by roughly 32 people (the owners of the NFL franchises) and Commissioner Roger Goodell. The NFL Players Union on the other hand is comprised of thousands of NFL players. Everyone knows that the majority of the players are multi-millionaires. Their contract information is publicized all over ESPN and such.
Meanwhile the multi-million dollar owners don’t have to open their books. The NFL’s tight grip on their financial diary would be respected if they weren’t requesting another $2 Billion of the league’s $9 billion yearly revenue claiming that the league is not experiencing the profits it once did.
Additionally, since the CBA expired on March 3 the NFL suspended all health benefits for NFL players and refuses to allow the players union to take complete look at the books.
Here’s where it gets really interesting: The NFL, anticipating labor issues, made deals with television networks that made provisions for the owners, creating a situation where the league still makes money even if there is a lockout during the season. So, in the event that the current lockout goes into the season, while NFL players won’t be playing (and consequently not receiving game checks), the owners will still be getting paid.
In his book, 40 Million Dollar Slaves, William Rhoden address the situation of African-American athletes and their role in building multi—billion dollar sporting enterprises. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Rhoden at several journalism conferences and most certainly respect his assessments.
So when Adrian Peterson makes statements supporting those sentiments, the media labels him controversial. Take from that what you will. But Peterson’s statements were necessary.
Who better to speak on the current state of black athletes than black athletes?
If black athletes are ever to attain the level of influence that they have earned on the playing fields of their respective sports, the process will begin with them being vocal. It will require them to be unafraid of the way the media will portray them for making “controversial” statements.
Most importantly, it will require fans to be informed and not be naive. Muhammad Ali is regarded as the greatest athletes of all time by many people not just for using his exemplary physical tools, but for using his words.
Hopefully there’s a kid somewhere who plans on dominating the league with his strong arm as well a strong mind.