Monday, August 29, 2005

Terrell Owens: Proletariat?

Not exactly, but Marc Lamont Hill of argues that the Terrell Owens spectacle does highlight the inextricable exploitative nature of corporate capitalism in which management stacks the deck against labor -- even when they're wealthy prima donnas like Owens -- while telling them how lucky they are even to be at the table in the first place.
Unlike the NBA, NHL, and Major League Baseball, NFL contracts drastically favor the interests of owners. While the other leagues offer guaranteed contracts that ensure that players are paid regardless of performance level, health, or status with their respective team, the non-guaranteed NFL contract enables owners to cut players from the team with no further financial obligation. Of course, the better NFL players are able to negotiate this dilemma by demanding guaranteed signing bonuses, frontloaded contracts, and easily attainable performance bonuses, as Owens did for the first season of his contract. However, the majority of NFL players, particularly those with average talent and those near the middle or end of their contracts, are at-will employees with little financial security.

As Owens has continually noted since the beginning of the dispute, it is this power that owners leverage against players whenever they see fit. For example, while Owens stands to earn more than $40 million over the remainder of his contract, he will receive only $3.5 million this year. In all likelihood, the Eagles will ask Owens to take a drastic pay cut if he were to remain with the team beyond the 2006 season. If he refuses, the Eagles would likely cut Owens and pay him nothing. Similar instances occur every year with most NFL teams, who force players to reduce their salaries with little or no recourse.

With this in mind, we can look at Owens' claims and the owners' self-righteous response in a new light. The notion of "outperforming" a contract is not nearly as pompous and absurd as it has been presented to be in the media. If owners have the ability and the willingness to terminate contracts with little regard for players, why should players have such concern for owners? While we can safely assume that Owens' intention is not to represent for the NFL proletariat, his stand nonetheless spotlights the highly problematic power balance between league owners and players.
There's no doubt that Owens is a major asshole, but his improprieties shouldn't dilute the power of his argument. I hate to admit it, but Mr. Lamont Hill's right to take Owens' argument seriously and produce an analysis that basically supports Owens' accusations against Eagles management. While professional athletes are maligned for wanting what seems like insane salaries to the blue-collar brethren that root for them, one must recognize that they are the grist for the mill of a multi-billion dollar industry.

Marx once wrote in regards to labor that "[i]t produces palaces - but for the worker, hovels. It produces beauty - but for the worker, deformity." While the first sentence doesn't necessarily fit today's NFL, can there be any doubt that the second sentence still remains true even for those "overpaid" athletes of the NFL -- or for that matter any sport. For considerable money and fame, they satisfy our lust for entertainment and our longing to share in superhuman feats, yet in return many become crippled masses of bone and flesh forgotten the moment the lights go dark.

While Owens maybe hard to take, he broaches a topic too often forgotten when people piss and moan at the extraordinary sums paid to today's professional gladiators.

I'd rather see the people who entertain me and allow me to forget my problems for a few hours get the cash, rather than the suits lining the luxury boxes up above fattening themselves on the blood and sweat of those below.