Monday, March 21, 2011

What's in A Word?

Adrian Petersen, star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, created a bit of a dust-up when he compared the National Football League to "modern-day slavery."  He has been accussed of "not thinking at all," being "an idiot," and needing "a lesson in history."

I am saddened that "[t]here are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade"  Further, [t]he modern commerce in humans rivals illegal drug trafficking in its global reach—and in the destruction of lives." I wish more people knew that conservative estimates believe that there are 27 million people in slavery today.  That number "means that there are more people in slavery today than at any other time in human history."  Finally, I will grant that the word "slave" is "infamously rooted in history that [it is] are beyond nuance and context" and that using "that painful imagery in a five-second sound bite . . . was guaranteed to blow up in his face," especially since Peterson is expected to earn $10 million dollars next year.

Still, I'm bothered by the fact that everyone is going after him for the first half of the sentence and not focusing on the last half.  Peterson said, "It's modern-day slavery, you know? People kind of laugh at that, but there are people working at regular jobs who get treated the same way, too." [emphasis mine]

What if Peterson had said that the NFL is like modern day sharecropping or serfdom?  Granted, Peterson is going to make $10 million next season and no serf or sharecropper ever earned that much.  On the other hand, he is limited to playing in the NFL.  No rival football leagues exist.  When he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, he would have had to wait for a year to play football if he had not wanted to live in Minneapolis.  In short, he had to choose between playing football and working where he wanted.

More importantly, NFL players who play 5 years have a life expectancy of only 55 years, decades less than the average lifespan of 77 years. To put an NFL player's life expectancy in perspective, it's the same as a man living in Ethopia.  Even those who condemn Peterson admit that "it's the players who risk bodily harm and brain damage, and are often left with chronic pain and debilitating conditions for life."  Most of those players won't be millionaires, but the company store owns their bodies, if not their souls.

Too many people take a "if it's so bad, leave attitude" toward anyone who complains that working conditions are unfair.  By doing so, they ignore the fact that many have to choose between a bad job and no job.  No job means no food on the table and no roof over one's head.  Peterson is right; a lot of people are stuck in a job that doesn't pay them enough to live, but that they can't afford to leave.  It may not be slavery, but it's certainly a perversion of the American ideal.  He was making a valid point, but he should have chosen his words more carefully.

No comments: