Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Skills to Avoid the Bills

If you gave me a million dollars for this I'd probably stop doing it after a while.

Can we get a few things straight here? Please? Specifically regarding payment for services and how much and whatnot? Can we? I’ll warn you now, I’m in a hurry and I’m not going to do a lot of research on this one, I’m just gonna shoot from the hip. Agreed? Fuck, they’re rants after all right? Right.

Here’s the deal, an accumulation of comments has been bugging me lately capped off by Adrian Peterson’s comment that being an NFL player is “like modern day slavery.” Yes, the guy set to make $10.4M once the NFL resumes business in 2011 is a slave. Others who have been referred to as slaves recently include college athletes who claim that their so called labor and likenesses are used by the NCAA and member schools with no compensation. A group of these college athletes led by former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon has recently sued the NCAA and EA Sports for unfair practices. I think the Peterson quote is something we can all dismiss as blatant stupidity. The student athlete is a little more complicated. When these kids accept their scholarships they sign away their rights to the NCAA forever. Basically the scholarship agreement allows the NCAA to use the kids' image etc for marketing purposes any way the NCAA wants in perpetuity. I don't know if I agree with that. But the fact is, the kids do have a choice, don't sign. If you think you're all that and you think you're going to be a legend who's going to be plastered on water bottles and billboards decades after you leave school then hold out for a better deal. And don't tell me you don't get paid. You get a free education, books, dorm, meal plan, etc. You know, the shit the rest of us are going tens of thousands of dollars into debt for. You also often get tutoring, you get to travel and get excused absences from class. You get say you played college sports. You get a ton. You. Get. Paid. Period. Maybe the NCAA shouldn't own you forever, but without them you wouldn't have some famous image to put out there. You'd be like the rest of us. No one wants to see me in a video game.

Let's talk a little more about being paid. Another group recently compared to slaves in my presence is white suburban housewives. In a class discussion on Dorothy Smith's book "Ethnography for the People" we examined her redefinition of the term "work." Basically she says work is anything you do intentionally. The point is to frame the work women do in the home as work that contributes to society on par with what men do outside the home. I personally don't see how this is so revolutionary, especially for a book published in 2005, since I grew up with this idea. I have no problem with this definition of "work." But I take issue with an idea Smith espoused and my professor backed up which is that this women's work was "unpaid." Excuse me? These women aren't paying rent, for food, for any expenses really, they are given transportation, health care, and often extra money to buy things they like. Much like college athletes these women are paid for their work. If they don't like it they can go get traditional jobs outside the home. They can run their marriages like financial partnerships.

Now I know this is a complicated socio-political issue. But I can't accept that if we are going to redefine "work" (and we should), that we resist also redefining "paid," which should also be redefined. "Payment" is anything you receive in exchange for your work. This idea did not go over well in class and led one of my fellow students then compare being a housewife to slavery. After all, slaves also got free room and board and health care. I mean, aside from the fact that the slaves were forced to be there under penalty of death isn't that big a distinguishing factor right?

Wrong. And that's the point. Nothing compares to slavery except for more slavery. Any time you have choice to do or do not (there is no try) you are not a slave. You don't have to take the scholarship. You don't have to play in the NFL. You don't have to get married and stay home. You have a choice. And don't tell me that they don't really have a choice because not taking the scholarship or whatever means they have nothing. Just because it's a hard choice or a choice with one really beneficial side and one bleak side doesn't mean you don't have a choice. Hard choices are what define life. If you take the scholarship, or the money, or the house in the 'burbs you have to accept what you are choosing. If you decide later that you don't want it you can leave, because you're not a slave.

Moving on. Peterson also states that the NFL is making a lot of money off of the players. This same sentiment is often expressed by people who think college athletes should be paid cash on top of their sweet sweet scholarships. But here's the thing dummies, you make money off them too. Guess what AP, there isn't anyone else in the world with the means or the desire to pay you $10.4M to run around with a ball. You can check. Go to the UFL or CFL and see what kind of gig they have to offer. Or, go get a real job and see how that pans out. Yes, the owners make money because people want to see you play. But the owners are also the only ones who have the infrastructure to make you rich and famous. Without them you're me. Guess what, players come and go. The game and the brand persist. So yes, we watch you, but really we watch the NFL. We watched before you came, and we'll watch when you're gone. You are easily replaceable, the league is not. The same goes for NCAA athletes. Guess what Ed? Your time at UCLA is the only reason people know who you are. You were not a good NBA player. You peaked in college. Instead of suing because the NCAA helps keep your memory alive maybe you should be happy anyone cares who you are. Because the truth is, if you're so upset I'm sure the NCAA would be happy to use Grant Hill next time.

One more note on being paid and what jobs are worth. I am sick to death of hearing people compare athletes to farmers and teachers. It usually goes something like this, "It's disgusting that these pro athletes make all this money and teachers are getting laid off." Or, "I don't watch pro sports because my dad's a farmer and he's struggling while feeding America. Doesn't he deserve to be rich?" Well no, if he were rich he'd stop being a fucking farmer. Seriously, this shit is so ignorant it's silly. Do you know why teachers and farmers don't make Adrian Peterson money? It's because you can't get 50,000 people to regularly pay $100 for tickets, $20 for parking, guzzling $10 beers to come watch your dad fucking farm. It's not interesting. Teachers don't get paid big bucks because as much as I love and respect teachers, most of them suck. Seriously, it's one of the few jobs where it seems like they'll just let anyone do. I was hired to teach linguistics even though I told them at the interview that they should find someone else. That's why teachers get paid shit. Because the system is set up to let shit people become teachers. I'm not saying all teachers are bad people. Or that they're not great valuable members of society. But let's be honest, you've had more bad ones than good ones in your life. As for farmers, some of them get paid to not farm so that the ones that do farm can get a decent price for their goods. If your dad wants to be rich he can sell his veggies or milk or whatever for $100 each. Maybe all the farmers can do that, then all the farmers will be rich and the rest of us will be malnourished or dead. Wouldn't that be nice?

Pro athletes aren't paid based on their worth to society. They're paid because WE pay them. We watch the TV commercials that convince advertisers to pay networks that pay the leagues huge sums of cash. We buy the tickets and the jerseys and the video games. We do it. It's us. Don't blame athletes, blame yourself or your friends, or your family. We do this. We don't pay teachers and farmers big bucks because we don't buy teaching bubble gum cards. We don't want corporate sponsorship of education. But the fact is that teaching and farming are such shit jobs that if you got a million dollars for doing it you'd fucking quit. There's no way you'd deal with these little asshole students and demanding asshole parents and fucking asshole administrators if you had a million dollars. Let's face it, a lot of teachers teach because they love teaching. A lot would keep doing it if they already had money. But so many more do it because they thought they'd love it and now they feel stuck.

So what's the answer? I don't have an answer. Maybe it's corporate sponsored education. Maybe it's halting pro sports until all the whiny babies can share their billions of dollars. I think a long work stoppage would be a good thing in the long run. Most pro baseball players have roughly a high school diploma. Let's see how they do out in the real job market. Baseball tried a players league 100 years ago or so. It failed. Now that players are millionaires maybe they should try it again. No owners. Unhappy players can start a football collective and put their money where their mouths are. They can set up infrastructure, TV deals, political allies, get venues, advertisers, clothing deals and all that. I think that would be good. In the meantime teachers can try to get shoe deals and have their faces put on water bottles and such. That would be nice.

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