Wrong or Right

By Je’Rod Cherry

Unless you have been under a rock, Andrian Peterson, the star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, is under fire for comparing his plight as a NFL player and the structure of the NFL system as the equivalent to modern day slavery. Despite being banned in 1865, aka the 13th Amendment, slavery does still exist in America.

True modern day slavery in America exist in the form of human trafficking, in which the laborers are typically sex slaves and forced laborers in restaurants, hotels, domestic services, industrial sweatshops, and agricultural settings.

If you take a trip outside of our America, you will find classic slavery is not hidden like in America. Instead, it is openly practiced in certain countries, despite United Nations sanctions and accords that are anti-slavery in nature and sentiment.

So for starters, there is sadly modern day slavery in which one human being controls the fate of another human being and treats that person as personal property to be used at the owner/master discretion, with the slave receiving nothing in return in regards to a better “quality of life” for his or her labor.

That right there eliminates Peterson’s claim that the NFL and his plight as a player within the NFL laborer system is the equivalent to modern day slavery.  As far as I can tell, no one is allowing true modern day slaves to eat in restaurants and stay in hotels for free, or paying thousands of dollars for their signature.

Yet, before we cast collective stones at Peterson and dismiss him as foolish, irrational, and misguided, for the sake of open dialogue I will explain to you how Peterson could derive the notion that the NFL labor structure parallels slavery. We will assume that Peterson was paralleling the NFL with classic American Southern antebellum slavery, in which slaves worked on a plantation and were traded at slave trade auctions.

As a former player, I can recall having conversations about our plight at the combine with other rookie NFL hopefuls. Though misguided, we felt like we were at a slave auction. We were asked to strip down to our under pants while team doctors and officials would ask us to turn around so that they could observe and measure our dimensions. Some team officials would even ask you to open your mouth, in similar fashion to how a veterinarian may diagnose the health of a horse and or livestock.

During slavery, slaves were also put on a platform and observed so that slave purchasers could diagnose the health of potential slaves. This was done so that the slave owner or purchaser did not make a bad investment and purchase a slave that had poor health or undesirable physical measurements that would prevent him or her from doing their physical task.

In essence, my experience at the combine as well as Peterson’s, served the same functional purpose as a slave auction in that if you are going to make an investment in a person’s physical ability to perform a certain task you should, and will, look over and under the hood and investigate a person health through observation, especially considering that thousands to millions of dollars are going to be invested in that person’s ability to perform a physical task. Thus the “parallel” to slavery is there.

The issue of being property is another “parallel” that exist between slavery and the NFL system. Once purchased, the the slave master owned all the physical rights of the slave, because at that time the slave was not viewed as having natural or inalienable rights, the bill of rights did not apply. Slaves were viewed as personal property. For example, if a slave had a a baby, the slave owner could sell that child to another slave purchaser and the slave had no legal say in the matter.

In the NFL, once drafted or under contract, the team owns the rights of that player. If not identified in the contract the player has no say in if the owner wants to trade him to another team. So a “parallel” is there, but the the big difference is that a slave had no choice. If you do not like your situation as a football player today, you can quit or behave like disgruntled Cincinnati Bengals star quarterback Carson Palmer, and threaten to quit and not receive a physical beating in return for your insubordination.

From a physical stand point, slaves were worked into the ground from sun up to sun down. Believe me when I tell you that as a former player there were days, weeks and in some cases months where I felt that I could not go on physically. During those times, I was physically and mentally beat down, yet I kept on working by choice, not force. Thus the physical toll that a body takes in the NFL is harsh and at times comparable to the physical demands of slaves harvesting crops. Yet, unlike slaves, NFL players get certain days, weeks, and even months off to recover and recuperate.

When I examine Peterson’s comments, I think the real issue that he was attempting to convey is an ideal that NFL owners are promoting inequality and exploitation by enforcing certain demands as their rights to ownership, while at the same time disregarding the concerns and criticisms of their employees the players.

The freedom to protest is one of many things that makes our country great. However, comparing a person who got nothing but abuse, be it mental or physical, to a pampered athletic culture is misguided. Yet, based on what you just read I hope you can now infer on how Peterson may have derived his thought and sentiment be it wrong or right.



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