Sometimes, The Stupid, it hurts.
And sometimes it goes beyond stupid into the For Fish’s Sakes zone.
The really bad arguments against NFL players have just gone into that zone.
There is a multi-part narrative (I’d call it a theory, but that would be giving it way way too much credit) that comprises the following assertions (again, I’m not calling them arguments because they never have any evidence to back them up):
1. NFL players cannot be oppressed or treated unfairly because they are paid a lot of money to play the game
2. Therefore, NFL players should shut up, be grateful, and play the game.
3. And they should respect the flag and stand for the National Anthem because…if my employer told me to stand to attention for the National Anthem every day I would have to do it, therefore those greedy whiny-ass NFL players should damn well do it too
(3) is bullshit and hokum, and I already wrote about it here. Only idiots, assholes or totalitarian regimes think that it is OK to demand respect and fealty to symbols. Despite the whining of the POTUS, the NFL is not going to mandate that the players stand for the anthem for two compelling reasons:
(1) it is not a requirement in current player contracts under the NFL CBA,
(2) it will likely be ruled a violation of the Constitution by SCOTUS, which has ruled multiple times in the last 75 years that nobody can be compelled to perform those actions. (This is why Roger Goodell, a lawyer, deliberately uses the advisory “should” and not the instructive “shall” when commenting about the current NFL rules).
The argument about other employers not allowing employees to protest on company time is a false equivalence. Technically, the anthem ceremony is not part of an NFL game, and it did not exist prior to 2009 except on special occasions. Any employer, especially in the IT or tech sector, that tried to implement a rule forcing the players to stand daily for the national anthem would immediately drop to the bottom of the list of places to work, and would rapidly lose most of its best people. Young, mobile or highly qualified knowledge workers have a low tolerance for totalitarian horseshit. Most employers would not touch this idea with an extremely long barge pole. They are not stupid.
(2) is also bullshit. Being well-paid confers no obligation on any person to surrender their rights to public comment on any issue. If that were true, we would not be hearing a peep from corporate CEOs, television and movie stars, and famous musical artists. The idea that people should shut up because you might not like what they have to say reeks of totalitarian, intolerant conceit. it’s also an argument I have been reading and hearing for years. It has been bullshit all of that time, and it will continue to be bullshit.
I mean, I want world peace, but I am not entitled to get it any time soon.
NOTE to Daniel Snyder: You can claim that 96% of NFL viewers want the players to stand (wherever that claim came from), but here’s the reality, you authoritarian dickweed; opinion polls and fan surveys do not trump legal or constitutional rights.
(1) is also bullshit, for two reasons.
Firstly, most NFL players do not initially enter into freely negotiated contracts with their employers. They are drafted. A team selects them, and their consent to be drafted by a specific team is legally immaterial. (One or two players, most notably John Elway and Eli Manning, managed to maneuver themselves into playing for the team that they really wanted to play for, but the rarity of such outcomes tells you about how invariable the process normally is).
Secondly, once drafted, NFL players have next to no ability to negotiate their contracts. They are bound by the rookie wage scale, which “slots” player remuneration according to position and draft selection sequence. Any variation is financially minor. The deals are all for 4 years with the team having the option to unilaterally extend for a further year.
Once upon a time, in England, people could be “pressed” into service in the Royal Navy by being, essentially, kidnapped, and placed on board a navy vessel. They were then informed that they were serving in the Royal Navy. No way out existed, since by the time they were actually untied, the ship was already at sea. To me, the NFL entry process for many players looks remarkably like the press gang.
Most NFL contracts are not guaranteed, and a team can essentially fire a player at any time. Now…some players mitigate this via pre-paid bonuses. However, the bottom line is that players are, in most cases, press-ganged into the NFL, and are vulnerable to being fired at any time. I cannot recall that I was ever press-ganged into joining an employer like that.
Now…did the players enter into that sort of arrangement as part of the NFL collective bargaining agreement? Well, yes, and No. The NFLPA agreed to the CBA. However, college football players are not members of the NFLPA, and they certainly did not agree to the CBA. So the players entering the NFL, in most cases are stuck in a process they did not agree to that they cannot vary, where they have no real freedom to negotiate. Now, is that slavery? In the sense of them being forced to work in perpetuity while enduring grinding poverty…No. However, they have a lot less freedom than most regular folks to select an employer, negotiate a contract, and change employers.
Secondly, as most people soon find out, money does not cure all ills or guarantee happiness. The idea that if we all had 10 million dollars we would be happy is a superficially attractive one, but most of us eventually meet people in life, who have a lot of money, who are some combination of miserable or assholes. So the idea “you make a lot of money so you should be happy” is total bullshit. As the old saying goes, money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you a better class of misery.
Some final thoughts.
An example of the reality that leading practitioners in sports do not forfeit their rights to push for improvements in their sport simply because they are well paid.
When he was driving in F1, Jackie Stewart began campaigning for improvements in car and circuit design and safety, and guess what? Exactly the same arguments being deployed against the NFL players were deployed against him, including “just shut up and drive, you highly paid ungrateful so and so”. People said that motor racing was intrinsically dangerous, and the drivers volunteered to drive, so they knew the dangers and therefore deaths were simply part of the sport. If you want to understand the results of casual acceptance of bad circuit design at the time, Google “helmuth koinigg” (WARNING – Not pleasant viewing).
Jackie Stewart ignored the pushback, and partly due to his advocacy, Formula 1 slowly changed from a sport where at least 1 driver died a year in an accident, and several were forced into retirement due to crippling injuries, to a sport where any serious driver injury is now a rare event.
The NFL is a collision sport, and this always carries risk of injury, although the worst effects seem to be occurring long after players retire, due to body damage and brain trauma. However, the idea continues to be espoused by many NFL fans that the game should be dangerous. This is nothing more than a relic of the prize-fighting mentality, and you don’t have to be a genius to see that a lot of the people making arguments that the NFL is being “wussified” are pretty much the same people who are demanding that the players STFU and stand for the anthem. They are also, from my personal Twitter analysis, mostly elderly white guys (some of them are bots, but that’s another story).
In other words, a lot of the people making the most noise about those nasty un-American players are precisely the sort of people the NFL should not be listening to, because they will not be watching the sport very much longer.