As the NFL Players Association and the league and owners failed to hash out a deal before the expiration of the NFL collective bargaining agreement, the law has gotten involved, and emotions are running high. Much controversy has surrounded a recent comment made by Viking‘s star running back, Adrian Peterson. In an interview with Yahoo!, Peterson likened the current situation between players and owners to “modern day slavery”. This language, of course, ruffled a good many feathers, and has had the talking heads foaming at the mouth ever since, but is there something to Peterson’s comments?
Of course, nobody would consider an NFL player, earning millions of dollars a year, a slave, but if we take the semantics out of the equation and take a look at what I think Peterson actually meant, you see a much different story. Perhaps a better term for the situation would be “well paid indentured servitude”. The situation that NFL players currently find themselves in is not a new one – struggles between unions and employers have been part of America’s history for a long time – but it is a unique situation.
As a player in the NFL, you are well paid, and for many, it is the realization of a dream. However, this benefit does not come without cost. A contract is a contract – a legally binding document that, when signed, renders both parties bound by law to follow through on the agreed upon terms of the contract. What makes an NFL players contract a bit different from one that you would, say, create with a contractor, is that not just their services are under contract, but they are under contract as well.
What this means is that, while being at the whim of a union, where a majority decision trumps that of individual members, there are personal restrictions placed on players who are a part of the league. There are certain activities one might participate in during their free time, that have nothing to do with the game of football, and are perfectly legal, but are expressly restricted in the terms of the contract. That means that an NFL player may have terms in their contract that define a whole list of personal activities that they are no allowed to participate in.
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Of course, the player has the choice to sign, or not sign, that dotted line and become part of the NFL and all that goes with it. But that does not, however, mean that Peterson was entirely wrong in his comment. Being a part of the NFL Players Association does make you part of a high earning, and elite club, but you are held to different standards than you would be in any other job – union or otherwise.
Personal conduct is regulated, and thus one’s “freedom” as a football player is a bit relative. Is the price they pay worth it? I would say that is a personal decision that each player has to make, but given the popularity of the sport, and the love of the game displayed by the players, I would think that there are plenty of people willing to sign that dotted line, regardless of what it entails.