Players who make asinine statements simply 'slaves' to stupidity

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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NFL players don't need a court order. They need a gag order.

For some reason, they keep equating their jobs to "modern-day slavery," as Minnesota's Adrian Peterson put it. Enough already. The NFL is about as close to "modern-day slavery" as Tripoli is to Tokyo, and it's time these guys get a history lesson, a geography lesson or a dose of common sense.

Basically, it's time they stop playing the S card.

At least Leonard Weaver had enough sense to realize his statement backing Adrian Peterson was foolish. (US Presswire)  
At least Leonard Weaver had enough sense to realize his statement backing Adrian Peterson was foolish. (US Presswire)  
Look, players are eloquent, forceful and persuasive when they talk about the NFL lockout and how they're getting what they consider an unfair shake of revenues ... or not getting the financial transparency they demand ... or having a basic mistrust of greedy owners.

But they veer off topic when they start comparing themselves to "modern-day slaves." Not only does it make them unsympathetic figures in a public dispute; it makes them seem uninformed.

I'm not sure who's to blame more -- the guys talking or the people advising them. All I know is that persons on the players' side who should be concerned aren't, and that's troubling. I mean, if you're going to portray yourself as a victim don't tell me you're the modern-day equivalent of Kunta Kinte, because you're not.

So why try hammering it home? Because you're frustrated with the current stalemate? OK, I get it. Because you think owners are taking an unfair share of profits? I get that, too. Because the NFL seemed to chart a lockout course when it signed off on TV deals a court found contrary to players' interests? That's a big 10-4. Because players can be locked into contracts with no escapes -- like franchise and transition deals? Trust me, I understand.

But don't tell me you're "modern-day slaves" because you're getting jobbed. That's not only insulting to your audience; it's insulting to you. You're smarter than that. You know it, I know it and pro football fans know it.

And what we know is this: In the second-worst economy in the nation's history, NFL players made an average of $1.896 million in 2009, according to NFL Players Association figures. Granted, that's the lowest average in pro sports. I get that, and I also get that owners made a gazillion bucks. But that's not the point. What is, is that it's $1.896 million, or more than some Americans earn in a lifetime. Factor that over the average career of an NFL player -- 3.4 years -- and you walk away with $6.44 million.

I'm not saying players should be grateful. I'm just saying I don't remember slaves pulling down $1.896 million per.

But let's forget about remuneration and move on to pro football in general. It's a profession that players choose voluntarily. Hmmm, the last time I checked, nobody voluntarily chose slavery, which is why it's called slavery.

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Moreover, the terms and conditions of a slave's employment weren't determined by collective bargaining and they weren't negotiable. They were just imposed, period. Tell me the last time slaves were represented by a union, which, come to think of it, might be the only thing players and slaves have in common now.

Neither is represented by a union.

Now let's say you're a player, and you don't like the terms and conditions of your workplace. OK, here's a suggestion: Leave. Go to the CFL. The AFL. The UFL. Hey, join Chad Ochocinco at MLS tryouts, I don't care. Just find a sport where you're happy. Or take a job at a private enterprise. Work for a bank. Sell cars. Write books. Wait on tables. Heck, advise pro football players. Just do something, anything, where you're drawing a check.

That's what most of us do, yet I don't hear the clerks at the neighborhood bank or the guy behind the counter at the local 7-Eleven pontificating about "modern-day slavery." But I did hear Peterson. Then I heard Rashard Mendenhall. Now, this week, we have Leonard Weaver, though he had the wisdom to retract his comments and apologize.

At last weekend's annual NFL players' meeting, former player Sean Morey made an impassioned appeal to the public, saying he understood its distress because "We connect with our fans." He's right, of course. People don't run around in Jerry Richardson or Jerry Jones jerseys; they run around with the names of Adrian Peterson and Rashard Mendenhall on their backs.

But that connection is damaged every time a player stands up and starts yammering about "modern-day slavery," and I'll tell you why: Because no "modern-day slave" sells a Manhattan condo for $17.5 million, as New England quarterback and assistant player rep Tom Brady did last month.

That doesn't mean we can't talk about "modern-day slavery;" it just means we can talk about it when it applies, as it does Friday with the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in New York City. The 1911 disaster was the deadliest industrial accident in New York history, with 146 garment workers killed after managers locked doors to stairwells and exits, forcing employees to jump nine stories to their deaths.

That was slavery. The NFL is not.

An official at the players' meetings told me Peterson had every right to voice his opinion; that he stood behind him and respected his right to take a stand. OK, fine. I think we all agree that Peterson is entitled to his opinion, just as someone like, oh, say, Carolina owner and NFL labor co-chairman Richardson is.

Yet when Richardson reportedly scolded players at a closed-door negotiating session people recoiled, criticized and wagged incriminating fingers. When Peterson & Co. portrayed themselves as "modern-day slaves" they did not.

Tell me what's wrong with this picture. Never mind, I'll spare you the trouble. NFL players are not "slaves," and they know it. Maybe they're incensed with how they're treated by the NFL, but at least they have a voice in how the league is run and a voice in what they do next.

Only now it's time that voice was channeled. Stick to what you know, guys, and what you know is that the NFL and "modern-day slavery" do not coexist in the same sentence.

End of conversation.

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