According to the traditional definition, a sweatshop is “a shop or factory in which employees work for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions.”
Fullback Michael Robinson of the Seattle Seahawks has revised that definition.
Robinson and others have expressed criticism of the condition of FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, during a recent playoff game.
USA Today quoted Robinson, referring to playing on that field, as saying “That should be illegal. That’s like working in a sweatshop to me.”
The NFL Players Association and Robinson seem to be of the opinion that players are being mistreated by being forced to work in unsafe conditions.
No employee wants to work in unsafe conditions.
We will, however, have to revise our understanding of the term “sweatshop.”
To me, the term conjures up images of crowded factories in which unfortunate workers, many of them children, toil their lives away for pennies per day under conditions that may result in serious injury or death.
Historically, I believe many of the tyrannical employers who ran these establishments charged workers for any damaged goods and even for the supplies they needed to do their jobs. There was no job security, and any worker who was injured and unable to perform his duties was thrown into the street, and another poor soul was inserted in the vacant position.
One recalls, for example, vivid images of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that took place in New York City in 1911. As a result of that fire, 146 garment workers, most between the ages of 16 and 23, died. They were unable to escape the burning building because it was common practice at the time for management to lock employees in to prevent unauthorized breaks and theft.
It requires a bit of effort to put the horrors of FedEx Field in the same category as places like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, but apparently, to Mr. Robinson, the situations are practically identical.
An objective observer might be forced to concede players in the NFL work slightly fewer hours than their counterparts in a traditional sweatshop.
I also suspect Robinson’s reported $2.5 million annual salary is somewhat more generous than the remuneration enjoyed by the average sweatshop employee.
Still, times change, and perhaps forcing young athletes to toil away for hours at a time, several months per year for the pittance they receive really is the modern version of a sweatshop.
I admire Robinson.
He earned a BA degree in advertising/public relations from Penn State, and another BA in journalism. The fact that he is pulling in a multi-million dollar salary while still in his 20s puts him miles ahead of most J-school grads. A lot of people with similar degrees won’t earn that much in their lifetime. My hat is off to him.
I hope the league will take the plight of Robinson and the other poor exploited NFL players seriously, and take prompt action to remedy the deplorable conditions under which they are forced to work every season.