Houston Texans owner Bob McNair confirmed what a lot of people thought; the owners look at black players as tools for their profit. Calling them "inmates" who are threatening to run the "prison" was a bad choice of words at best, and racist at worst. McNair showed his hand, and it read "these aren't players, these are moneymaking machines."
If McNair was so bold to say what he said in front of other owners, executives and two reporters, you know that he's not the only one who thinks this. These are billionaires who want to be bigger billionaires, and they only look at black NFL players as a tool to get there. Sure, when things are going well, there are smiles all around. But if any black player steps out of line and threatens to hurt the bottom line, they are traded or cut immediately.
NFL owners don't look at players as humans. They are looked at as investments.
In a world where opinions are increasingly polarizing, saying the NFL exploits players or there is a plantation mentality is a hyperbole at its finest. Players and owners have a symbiotic relationship that both parties take advantage of. Owners make money, and players become millionaires with a platform to help others and themselves. There is no exploitation when both sides are benefitting from the relationship.
Some of the highest paid athletes in the United States play in the NFL. Black players especially see some of the highest contracts because they also happen to be some of the best players in the league. Sure, they are making money for predominantly white owners, but they aren't getting slave wages.
Calling NFL players slaves is a disgusting comparison that insults people who are actually exploited, like sweatshop workers or actual slaves in the world. There is no exploitation here. Black players are treated fairly in this league.
First, Jerry Jones supported his players' right to protest. Then, after some pressure, he turns around and says he will deactivate players who protest during the national anthem. That shows he doesn't respect his players on a human level, as Michael Wilbon outlined on Pardon the Interruption:
It just seems it was as phony as a three dollar bill. And the word that comes to my mind, and I don’t care who doesn’t like me using it, is "plantation." The players are here to serve me; they will do what I want no matter how much I pay them. They are not equal to me. That’s what this says to me and to mine.
The NFL has made a killing in terms of revenue. A majority black league generated over $13 billion for owners. Still, players are told they can't exercise their First Amendment rights, get paid the lowest average salary of all the major professional sports in the United States, and don't get equipment that protects their brains properly.
The NFL knew players were damaging their brains playing the sport. Instead of admitting fault and improving their player's health, the league attempted to cover up studies making the NFL look bad.
Had reporters not uncovered the NFL's dirty deeds, the league would have let these players continue to kill their brains while making billions of dollars for owners. Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada from ESPN has the report:
At least a half-dozen top NFL health officials waged an improper, behind-the-scenes campaign last year to influence a major U.S. government research study on football and brain disease, congressional investigators have concluded in a new report.
The 91-page report describes how the NFL pressured the National Institutes of Health to strip the $16 million project from a prominent Boston University researcher and tried to redirect the money to members of the league's committee on brain injuries. The study was to have been funded out of a $30 million "unrestricted gift" the NFL gave the NIH in 2012.
After the NIH rebuffed the NFL's campaign to remove Robert Stern, an expert in neurodegenerative disease who has criticized the league, the NFL backed out of a signed agreement to pay for the study, the report shows. Taxpayers ended up bearing the cost instead.
Antonio Moore goes in on the NFL and its negative effect on black men who look at the game as their only way out:
In a country with a historical propensity to disregard and degrade the value of black men, football broadcasts the damaging of their bodies and minds on national television every weekend—for all of our enjoyment. For years, we've heard about the discipline that football instills, the values. But given what the game does, and how callous those getting rich from all that damage are about it, it's fair to ask: what are football's values, really? And even if they were something we could live with, or even desire, is instilling all those hoary virtues a fair trade off for the possibility—probability, even—of long term and short term brain damage?
For many African Americans growing up in poverty and crime-ridden neighborhoods, with little opportunities to improve themselves, the NFL is a beacon of hope. Bryan Mealer of the New York Times traveled to northern Everglades in Florida where football is the only way out, like many other places in the United States:
In Muck City, the well-worn line that “football is like religion” doesn’t even begin to convey its importance. Football is salvation itself, a fleeting window of escape from a place where prison or early death are real and likely outcomes.
Say what you will about Jerry Jones flipping on players or Bob McNair saying something stupid, there were other owners who stood by their players and continue to stand by their players. Here is San Francisco co-owner Jed York on his players protesting:
Everybody understands that we're going to get baited, whether it's from the President or whether it's from other detractors. We need to be above petty attacks from anybody, because racial and socioeconomic inequality has existed in this country for too long. We need to get the focus on that, and we need to make sure that we make progress there.
NFL players get paid. Slaves didn't. Players aren't forced to do this job. Slaves were. Mac Engel of the Star-Telegram says we need to stop comparing the two:
There are slaves. There are employees. There is a difference...If the player wants to be done with his job, at any point, he is free to quit. He is free to leave to leave his team. He is free to leave the plantation...And there is no comparison to that atrocity, so please stop doing it.
Adrian Peterson called football "modern-day slavery." Deron Snyder from NPR was not pleased:
The average NFL fan can't identify too closely with NFL players — and certainly not NFL owners. But most fans know what it means to work and receive a paycheck, regardless of how little they get in comparison. That's what makes Adrian Peterson's comments so disturbing and disgusting, reinforcing the stereotypes of dumb jocks and pampered athletes.