365. Not Just Another Labor Force


He there's Stephen dubner pod. Swag is your one stop shop for gifts from all your favorite podcasts. Head to pod. Swag dot com slash freakonomics to shop from a variety of merch, like, socks, mugs, and pins. We've got a two piece bundle and three piece set for you or podcast loving friends. You can gift an entire line of merch all in one click, go pod. Swag dot com slash freakonomics to shop. The bundles today, that's pod. Swag dot com slash freakonomics. If you make it to the final g feel like a rockstar. You feel like you like own the world I was in love with the game in part because of how violent it was. He wants something you have to be aggressive. It was over in seventeen seconds. I got a TKO victory. And I remember thinking, oh my God. I have to do this again. The fact of the matter is superstars do win championships. Super Bowl is by far the biggest sports event in the United States draws the most viewers the most attention, and of course, the most money as we've been discussing in this hidden side of sports series. The sports industrial complex has grown tremendously over the past few decades generates roughly seventy billion dollars a year. But once you strip away, the massive TV revenues the increasingly sophisticated arenas and stadiums all the merchandise. But most people care about is watching the players play. How much do we care about the players themselves? That is a different question. Most of us profess to care about the livelihood and well being of employees in various industries does this apply to athletes or is sports too. Unlike other industries to think of its employees as just another labor force, but find out that's find out what it's like to be on the labor side of the equation. A business that often seems never more than on Super Bowl Sunday to be nothing but superstars and fat paychecks and game day glory. Yes. The National Football League generates billions of dollars. But the reality of the facts of our business are are rather. Stark that's Demorest Smith, the executive director of the NFL players association the union that represents the athletes are players play for approximately three and a half years on average. That is some careers are obviously longer in every career at some point is derailed by pain. The injury rate is one hundred percent owners tend to own teams for decades if not generations what the players have tried to do throughout history is just to make sure that they get what they believe is their fair share. According to allow the athletes we've been speaking with in a variety of sports, a fair share is hard to come by many feel. They don't have much control over their destinies financial. And otherwise, it's a interesting kind of irony in that sports is a place that we consider as close to Ameritech, Chrissy as we have. And you look at the field, and we convince ourselves that once you step out there. It's all fair, and it feels that way. That doesn't extend to to the business of sports. This is true of the biggest sports like football. The owners are people who are used to getting their way and the sports that draw smaller crowds, the athletes have no leverage. It's almost like the abuser. Abusing relationship where the abuse e gives excuses for being abused. That's exactly what's happening with regard to domestic volleyball here in the US. This can happen early in an athlete's career. Most people understand that college sports is professional sports. They generate a substantial amount of revenue and that revenue goes to lots of people who are not the labor. It can happen to athletes at their peak. The way these contracts are structured is these athletes aren't paid any money upfront. The only way they earn money is by win. Metals and it extends into retirement, which for athletes is an inherently early retirement. I think about what I'm gonna do after basketball on a daily basis. And there's a level of fear of the other side so far in this series. We've looked at the history of the sports industry. How athletes do what they do both physically. And mentally last week. We talked to team and league executives about what keeps them up at night. My nine seven and five year old don't even turn on TV. The ends of NBA games is one of my bugaboos. I just can't stand the fouls and timeouts and assist. You know, not a good in viewing experience right now. One of the commissioners main objectives is to spread the game globally. In today's episode. What it's like to be an employee in one of the most prominent and volatile industries in the world. Yeah. It's a pretty typical fighter story to be broke and trying to make it, you know. From Stitcher and productions this is freakonomics radio. The podcast explores the hidden side of everything here's your host. Stephen governor. The seeds of sports career are typically planted quite early. I was eight when I was like I decided I wanted to be professional football player. That's Dominique Foxworth. He played in the NFL from two thousand five to two thousand eleven it's weird. Like, I was young enough than to be naive enough to think, obviously I'm gonna play an NFL started getting invited to football camps. And and that's when it started to become a business when I showed up, and it was like oh bear like evaluating me by this is where the dream either continues to go forward or or dies. The very first moment I played volleyball. I fell in love with it. That's the three time Olympic gold medalist Kerri, Walsh Jennings. People talk about their ha moments in these pivotal times in their lives where you know, things are different. I had that moment when I was ten in the fifth grade. And I literally just fell in love with the dance of the game. And the learning, you know, everything that had to do with volleyball. I loved it. I was a geek for it. I was a sophomore in high school and pro scouts started showing up to my games, and that is marked to Shera. And that's when I was talking to my coaches and talking to my dad and talking to some of these scouts saying, wow, I could actually play professional baseball. How cool is that to share a wound up playing fourteen seasons in the major leagues? He was a three time all star a World Series champion, but back in nineteen ninety eight he was just a teenager with a lot of potential. I was the twelfth rated prospect in the draft that year my senior year, he could've played college baseball. I or gone straight to the pros through major league baseball amateur draft. The draft is how teams in the big American sports pick their young players. Unlike other industries, where an employee can choose the city where they wanna live and the company they want to work for in. A sports draft the employees can only work for the company that chooses them still for a player like to share. The future was bright. You know for all intents and purposes, I should've been a top fifteen pick, right? The Red Sox that you're had the ninth pick the Red Sox actually had the twelfth pick overall not the ninth to share his recollection seems a bit off. Anyway, they called me up before the draft and said, hey, we want you to take this signing bonus was one point five million dollars. When take you the signing bonus agree to this pre-draft deal will draft you and you'll get started. Well, you're not allowed to release in those days. You weren't allowed to pre negotiate a deal when when you're an amateur. And so I said, okay, you know, at a roll the dice if the Red Sox don't draft me some other team will draft me, and I'll be fine. Well, draft day comes you know, was going to be the coolest day of my life. The most exciting day of my life. Not only was I not the ninth pick. I dropped to the ninth round out. So that's like two hundred seventy drafts me Boston rents Boston Red Sox. To share a wound up going the college and played baseball. At Georgia Tech best three years met your wife there. My wife. Blast. You know, just became a better baseball player when to share entered the draft this time he was picked fifth overall by the texts Rangers. So what had happened in that first draft, according to share? Here's what the Red Sox. Did they called every single team in baseball and said to share is not sign and he's going to Georgia Tech. Don't draft them the Red Sox. We should say have disputed to share his account and claim they did nothing wrong in any case. Here's what to share it took away from that incident. This was the moment that I realized that baseball is a business. Dominic Foxworth the business side of sports became fully manifest during college. At the university of Maryland, my freshman year in college we won a c- tambien ship. We went to the Orange Bowl and loss and then immediately after my head coach got a ten million dollar extension. And that was when I was like, oh, we aren't a team we're business. And that was when the light went on for me there is perhaps no more confounding labor market in sports than the one. Who's organizers insist on saying it is not a labor market? I'm talking about big time. American college sports run by the national collegiate Athletic Association, or NCWA college sports, especially basketball, and football have also grown massively over the past. Few decades. They generate about thirteen billion dollars a year nearly as much as the NFL, but the Lieber is essentially free aside from room and board and. Some epidemic scholarships college athletes received no compensation, so where is that thirteen billion dollars going? So it goes through supporting other sports, it goes to building bigger and better facilities that goes to paying college presidents, and coaches and funding the NC double A like it goes a lot of different places. But it doesn't go to the people who are the labor on the field. And just how much is going to the coaches the Duke economist Charles clot filter looked at compensation data for various personnel from forty four public universities that have big football programs over the past thirty years. He found that full professors got a salary increase of forty three percent adjusted for inflation, not bad college presidents got an eighty nine percent increase over that time. Even better had the football coaches do over those thirty years football coaches compensation increased more than eleven hundred percent from an average of around three hundred thousand dollars to more than three point six. Million dollars a year back in nineteen eighty-five. Football coaches were earning slightly less on average than the college presidents. Now, they earn about six times as much they're athletes. Meanwhile are still playing for free. And if you want a career in the NBA or NFL, you pretty much have to play at least some college ball since both leagues have eligibility requirements if forbid athletes from going pro straight out of high school, Dominic Foxworth, again, if that was the end of the story in every player, then went on to have NFL careers, it'll be unfair. But whatever like, it's you're not gonna lose any sleep for those guys. But the vast majority of the guys and I have several teammates who because it is not considered work. They're not privy to workers compensation. They're not privy to extend it healthcare. So one of my best friends in college. He had aspirations to play professional football. He had three knee surgeries while in college. The few years ago. His doctor told him that he was going to have to have both of his knees replaced by the time. He was fifty. And he didn't play professional sports. And there's nothing that any college football team or or governing body is going to do for him in that case. And that to me is is tragic that a lot of people benefited from that. So the old fashioned argument for why this was acceptable. Was that this is like what comments call a tournament model? Right. Whenever you got a lot of people competing for the top of the pyramid. Whether it's show business or sports, or whatever, you know, the bottom of the pyramid. There's lots and lots and lots and lots of people they're willing to do whatever it takes for practically no money. It's kind of weird unpaid apprenticeship some people accept that as okay, others don't. But what strikes me especially noteworthy about sports is the degree and magnitude of sacrifice physical, and otherwise is larger I would argue than trying to become an actor trying to become a writer try and whatnot. So. So can you just talk about that component on what you think would be a better solution? I think bringing up the tournament model is is interesting because I could understand how some people would look at that and say that it fits here. And that's why this is fair. But I think as a country we decided that that wasn't fair a long time ago. There are plenty of jobs where that's true like just about every job was like. The barista at Starbucks like there are plenty of people out there who are capable of being baristas in you could probably allow Starbucks to to pick them against each other negotiate down down down down down. But that's not the case we've instituted. Minimum wages in instituted lots of other laws to protect American people or American workers from these type of like, capitalistic urges Runamuck. And the thing that's frustrating to me is we've instituted roles in professional excuse me in college. I guess don't excuse me in professional sports that happened to take place on college campuses. We institute of roles that are to the advantages of the institutions, but we are not interested in instituting any rules that are things that we accept as just kind of. Faxon fair you'll you'll be hard pressed to find anyone in our society. That's like, no less. Eliminate the minimum wage allow this this tournament model to to run them up for for low wage workers. Right. Well, the other argument though in colleges wait a minute free education for years of college. What's that worth? It could be worth a lot. But you're not even getting the same -cation as the people around you because you have to travel on Thursdays, and Fridays, and you are not allowed to do certain majors because they conflict with your schedule. I wanted to computer science major and my economic advisor was like, that course, lows gonna make it very difficult for you to make practices their labs, and blah, blah, blah, blah and three times a week during the winter session or the spring session. You have to go to five AM workouts. And and that changes your academic experience. It's they're all these things that are mandatory. Because your scholarship is year to year, and you don't have any power to negotiate with your coach and say things like I I wanna take this. So I'm not going to be able to go there. That's just not a thing that that is available. So the education that they're receiving is not the education that people think it is. The duke. Economist Charles clot felt also looked at graduation rates from fifty eight universities have big time sports programs for the general population at these schools. The graduation rate was seventy two percent for football players whose fifty six percent basketball players. Just forty two percent. This is yet another reason that makes some people question the very existence of the NCWA. Here's the assessment of the entrepeneurship. Mark Cuban who owns the NBA's, Dallas Mavericks. I think it's worthless. If you could blow it up entirely, what would you do would you have football attached to college at all? I don't mind having attached to college, but I would make an independent entity. So it would operate independently go get a job let them practice as much as they need to. If I wanted to create a band, I can pay them, and they can stay in school. They can practice together as much as they want. That's the hypocrisy. If you want to be a professional athlete, you can't practice your craft as much as you would like there's limits to coaching and playing with your your teammates. There's limits on jobs, you can take there's so many different things that are bound in stone that it just doesn't make sense for years. There's been talk about reforming the NCWA. But it hasn't changed much the commission on college basketball chaired by former secretary of state Condoleeza Rice is advocating some reforms that can be seen as pro athlete. But she also said this. Our focus has been destroying 'then, the collegiate model not to move toward one that brings aspects of professionalism into the game, which might make more sense. If some aspects of college sports weren't already at the professional level lake coaching salaries and TV audiences and the expectations of the top tier athletes. So how likely is a substantial change Dominique Foxworth is not up domestic those guys who are on the doorsteps of having professional careers. It's not really in their best interest to to stop this now, and the people who are benefiting most from it who are not on the field like there's really no benefit to the coaches because coaches salaries are inflated because they have extra money because they are not sending it to the players and the rest of the the teams who are funded by money generated by football and basketball. There's no incentive there. There's just athlete. It's who don't have much power. Foxworth as you've probably figured out by now thought through the entire athletic ecosystem, more than most people besides playing in the NFL. He's been an executive at both the NFL and NBA players unions. And he also got an MBA from Harvard so to understand the incentives. He's been describing and the transition from college to pro let's go back to Foxworth own transition. You were drafted believe two thousand five third round. Right. So what I'm looking at here. I've no idea if this is accurate you were paid for that year, including a signing bonus about six hundred sixty thousand dollars that sound about right for year one. Sure. Okay. And it was a three year rookie contract. Is that right? Yeah. It was at three year. Rookie contract with fourth year option. I believe. Okay. So it looks like your first three years paid you total of about one and a half million dollars. And then your fourth year. Then you've did become a free agent move to Atlanta. Those first years we're in Denver. So they traded me. So I went through the first three years, and then I was coming up on a contract year. And I played pretty well in Denver. And I knew that I needed to play well in this year because if you don't then the salary minimum goes up for guys after that point. So then they just go get a younger one, and you and you go on with the rest of your life. So on during week one. We're getting ready for the first week of the season in Denver. They traded to Atlanta Atlanta was a terrible football team. At that point. That was the first time when I consider go into business school skipped training camp. This team's gonna be terrible. I'm not gonna play and then I'll be out of the league. But you must had a pretty good gear because the next year. Use signed a contract with Baltimore that paid you in year. One eight million dollars. You're to nine point two three four point four. Is that sound about right? It was a four year twenty seven I think and I'm in in Baltimore news, a four year twenty seven point two million dollar contract. How much of that? Did you actually collect all of you did how how did you have it guaranteed? Even though you didn't end up playing out the whole contract. So I was on the team for three years, and then the fourth year, I got I taken out insurance policy. So I got the rest of it there. So I was fortunate that. That the knee injury happened after a sign that deal because it would have happened when I was in college or happen to your earlier, I would have been on entirely different path. So despite an injury that prematurely ended his career a things worked out pretty well for Foxworth. Meaning he got paid by the time. He was thirty. He was set for life financially at least but consider how easily it might have been different. Consider the case of Andre Ingram as the Doman Ingram spent ten seasons in the NBA's minor leagues today. It's called the G league after sponsor Gatorade. It used to be the D league for development. So I would you know, tell people that. Yeah. Played in the D league and been playing for years, they usually notice my gray hair, and, you know, wonderful coach at met that some point they always ex oh have you ever made it to the big time, and it had to tell them the same thing every time not yet that finally changed last year Ingram at thirty two years of age was promoted to the Los Angeles Lakers for the seasons last two games. Here's what happened on the firm. I shot he took in the NBA. The. Drei Greg his first try. Awesome Ingram went onto scoring nineteen points at night. My brother, and my niece had called and told me they said, hey, you are blowing up on Twitter, you blown of Instagram. You know, you're everywhere Ingram made a great impression. But still he was a thirty two year old rookie would the Lakers bringing back the following season. When we spoke with Ingram this past summer. The Lakers had just made news by signing the much coveted LeBron James to a four year one hundred fifty three million dollar deal. How would Ingram feel about sharing the court with the best player of his generation? Yeah. I mean count me along with the hundred percent of players who would love to play with LeBron. So I mean that that's a no brainer. You won't believe how many texts I got when he made the decision. So a lot of people already assuming I was going to be back with the Lakers. Like man you play LeBron and in my head. I'm like man, I hope so either that or he took year roster spot. That's the bad way of looking at it. It right. You know, some people takes me that as with unfortunately for Ingram, the Los Angeles Lakers did not bring him back. He's playing for the south bay Lakers of the G league. This year his eleventh season in the minors and he's not doing so. Well, he's averaging listen eight points a game with a career low in three point shooting. His specialty which means that for Andre Ingram. The end of his professional career is probably pretty close. I don't sit around complain about it, you know, thinking unfair. You know, I just would want four people in general who watch basketball to know the game to just know that their guys out there in the G league now and overseas and elsewhere who just know how to play the game of basketball and can play it in the hassle level, including NBA. Coming up after the break, we get into the athletes afterlife. And what makes it so hard? Well, the life of an athlete from very early in their career is dominated and regiment by people other than themselves and how some athletes try to gain leverage over ownership. You know, I'm the CEO of my life. I do not want to give the reins to my life and my success to someone else's hands. And I do not want to be kept small. It's coming up right after this. Freakonomics radio is sponsored by ZipRecruiter. You know, what's not smart? The way hiring used to be jobsites overwhelm you with tons of the wrong resumes. Now, there's a smarter way to hire. At ZipRecruiter dot com slash freak. Ziprecruiter's powerful matching technology finds the right people for you. And actively invites them to apply. It's no wonder that ZipRecruiter is rated number one by employers in the US from hiring sites on trust with over thousands reviews and right now freakonomics radio listeners can try ZipRecruiter for free at ZipRecruiter dot com slash freak. That's ZipRecruiter dot com slash F. R E A K. It's easy to see professional athletes as fortunate beyond belief getting rich for playing the game, they love yada, yada. But that as we've been learning today is a very simplistic view of a complicated economic ecosystem for one thing. It's easy to focus on the handful of athletes at the very tippy top of the pyramid at the exclusion of the thousands of athletes below them. You don't make money unless you succeed at the Olympics. That's Shawn Johnson. She won one gold and three silver medals in gymnastics at the two thousand eight Olympics, how the majority of Olympic endorsements work. Is you sign an Olympic endorsement such as a Coca Cola. Mcdonald's. A Nike Adidas Under Armour before the Olympics, even starch, but the way these contracts are structured is these athletes aren't paid any money up front. The only way they earn money is by winning medals. So if you sign. Sign a deal with Nike. That's say a million dollars you go to the Olympics. And you don't win a medal. You don't earn any money. And when you're talking about thousands and thousands of athletes who have reached the pinnacle of their sport by just qualifying to the Olympics. The fact that they aren't getting compensated for their journey. That's gotten them to that point. I think is is pretty extreme extreme perhaps. But also, very similar to another population of amateur athletes, all the college football and basketball players who are very very good. But not quite good enough to have a pro career. And if you are that good and lucky then you're drafted by a protein. Remember, they choose you. You don't choose them. And now you're looking at a rookie contract with predetermined wages for your first several years if last that long if not the team can cut you loose, which means you're downside is unprotected. At the same time that you're upside is limited. You're basically stuck at a way below market paycheck for your first three years at a minimum Victor Matheson, an economist at college of the Holy Cross and president of the North American association of sports, economists is that made up for by the fact that you get to make these huge free agent contracts later. Yeah. But only if you last long enough to actually make free agency. Russell Wilson the Seattle Seahawks quarterback did make it that far. Actually, he did. So well, and I three seasons at Seattle gave him a contract extension worth nearly ninety million dollars before what would have been his final season under his rookie contract. But during those first three seasons, he averaged under a million dollars a year despite leading his team to two Super Bowls and winning one. And what if Wilson instead had played major league baseball, which he may be could have he was drafted by the Colorado Rockies and played some minor league ball. In baseball Wilson would have had to put in six years of major league service to become a free agent, interestingly the average career length major league baseball is five point six years. Also, interesting rookie NFL contracts or for four years and the average NFL career length the typical player plays about three seasons. This presents a paradox a clash of incentives the gives the leagues and teams much more leverage than the athletes as Victor Matheson sees it this also helps explain why a players strike would be very hard to organize. If I'm working for Verizon on the lines fixing. Telephone poles. I might be willing to sit out and lose my salary for an entire year. If I can get a ten percent higher salary for the next twenty years. I'm working for them, you know, those numbers kind of work out. But if you're if you're a major league baseball player if you're an NFL player. You can't afford to lose even one season because there's almost no increase in pay that could possibly justify losing one season of your very very short career. And so the owners have a huge advantage over them. They will not make that money back like it's just physically impossible Dominique Foxworth again. He was on the NFL players union executive committee during its last collective bargaining negotiation in two thousand eleven with the the length of a player's career. And how much money they could stand to make in a season. It's really not in their best interests like mathematically logically. If you go through the numbers, it's not in their best interest to actually withstand a lockout or to initiate a strike. And as a matter of fact, teams themselves have stopped striking completely all of the last major interruptions in pro sports in the United States have not been strikes, although they look like it to the fan lockout. They've been lockout see this is the owners actually going on strike and not paying the not paying the players rather than the players refusing to work. That's what happened in the two thousand eleven NFL negotiations. The NFL locked out the players for one hundred and thirty two days, although it was during the off season. So barely affected the run of play the owners and the players union finally agreed on a ten year deal which saw the players share of revenue fall from essentially fifty fifty two somewhere in the high forties. Although the players did gain some other concessions like funding for retirement and fewer practices. The most recent NBA NHL collective bargaining agreements. Have similarly resulted in a smaller share of revenue going to the athletes that said those are huge rich leagues that generate many millions of dollars even average players. It can be a lot harder to make a living in some other pro sports. Yeah. It's a pretty typical fighter story to be broke and trying to make it, you know, you're in Murphy started fighting in mixed martial arts matches in two thousand ten she's currently a top ranked flyweight fighter in the UFC or ultimate fighting championship. There was a time when I was coming up before I was signed at USC where I was traveling a lot to train I was sleeping on people's floors. I was sleeping in their guest bedrooms. I would like how sit and dog sit for people at the gym. It's hard to come up in fighting because you spend all your time training. So you don't have a lot of time to work. You know, if you're if you're trying to decide what what sport to go into man, stay away from UFC because they're making a lot of of revenues, but not much of that is going into the athletes in the big team sports. Matheson told us roughly half the revenues are designated for the players, although as we just noted that share has been shrinking a bit in the meanwhile, that share is much. Lower the amount going to the athletes. There's about ten or fifteen percent of revenues the chief operating officer of the UFC Lawrence. Epstein disputes that figure fifteen percent number. I don't I don't think that's accurate. I mean, there certainly is some fluctuation in the percentage of revenues that goes out leads. But the reason for that primarily is that we have a variable revenue stream model in our in our company, meaning the UFC distribute some of its fights via pay per view. Whereas the big team sports have bigger more reliable TV contracts still salary data for UC athletes is hard to come by since the company is privately held and the athletes are not unionized, which means there's no collective bargaining agreement. The UFC really has all the control they can cut you on one loss. They can cut you after two losses. They can keep you around for as many as they want. They can renegotiate your contract. You know, there's just. They have a lot of power that said Lauren Murphy is not much of a critic of the USC her career may not be all that lucrative. But it is a career maybe more important, it's given shape to her life sports in Murphy's case fighting it can have that affect on people, and that's part of the draw. I struggled with depression and I struggled with addiction. And I kinda just became your your typical high school dropout teenage mom in a small town. And it's just changed my life in ways that I never could have even dreamed of back then in a small town in Alaska in just her third. UFC fight Murphy earned fifty thousand dollar bonus for taking part in the fight of the night, a fairly subjective award bestowed by UFC management to the two fighters who delivered the most impressive performance on a given nights card that bonus changed my life. You know, I paid off a bunch of student loans with that. And I got out of debt and. It was really a life changing experience for me Murphy's bonus was a great stroke of fortune as for her guaranteed pay the UFC. That's a different story fighters. Get paid for two things making weight and winning figures vary, but the most Murphy's ever gotten was twelve and twelve twelve thousand dollars for making weight twelve thousand dollars for a win which obviously is also not guaranteed. What is guaranteed is that Murphy will train five to six hours a day for months, and that you have see fighters get on average just two point three matches per year. I've only made about fifteen thousand dollars in the of C so far this year. But you know, my dream was to see how far I could take this. And for me, at least, you know, if I wanted to be in a profession to make a lot of money. I would have been a lawyer or a doctor something like that. I mean, yes, I'd like to make more. I think anybody on earth wants to make. More. You know, if you ask them, do you wanna make more money? Everybody's going to be like, yes. So I I would love to make more money. I certainly think I'm worth more money might have more to do with the fact that this is a fairly new sport that may be still trying to find its way Victor Matheson again, but that's way, less than you're making elsewhere. Now, do you anticipate that changing if we were to talk in five or ten years, you have see is is making a lot of money and they've been growing really fast. Do you think that the athletes will eventually get the leverage to get that share up to thirty fifty sixty percent of revenues? Well, we did not see that happen in any of the other individuals sports Intel we had those athletes join together in some sort of important way. The athletes unions or players associations as often called negotiate not only pay scales. But also work conditions schedules health and safety and various benefits. In other words. They do what labor unions have always done, the NFL players association is in fact, a member of the AFL CIO, the big federation of unions that include the American federation of teachers and the American federation of state county municipal employees here again is damore Smith executive director of the NFL players association. I think it would be fair to say and people should understand that we are labor and the National Football League and its member teams are our management, and there is no difference in the hostility between us than there would be between management writ, large and labor writ large in America. We. Literally have engaged in hundreds of legal fights with the league. And the teams in the ten years since I've been here Smith, we should say is a lawyer who's worked in private practice as well. As the US department of Justice, the history of labor in management in the United States has been one for the most part. Where management has successfully lobbied and changed laws through through litigation that have affected a net negative for for employees. So we don't necessarily shy away from making sure that we are aggressive in the way in which we protect our players interest. Whether it's issues of healthcare issues of control issues of free speech issues of injury care issues over over money shares of revenue the league locked us out in in two thousand and eleven and that means not only cutting off the players right to to earn a living, but they cut off the health insurance for thousands of players wives, and and dozens of players wives who were expecting children during the lockup. They've. Issued and engaged in legislative action to take away our players right to medical care. And certainly we've had our skirmishes over Commissioner discipline and revenue now as I understand it. Some team owners are supporting legislation and a handful of states that would take away workers comp from injured players. I have that. Right. Yeah. We've probably had somewhere between ten and fifteen state legislature fights with Bill supported by team owners to take workers comp away from professional athletes, which is terrible. And their their argument than is what that it shouldn't be. Their argument is that they are cheap. And tell me about some of the other legal challenges you filed whether the league or legislatures whether it has to do with healthcare revenue share whatnot. You this show is no way long enough to go down that road. Considering all the issues that NFL players face and considering that they play in the richest sports league in the history of the world and have a relatively strong union. You might think that athletes in lesser sports would like to emulate them, but not necessarily I've been contacted a couple times now by people that want to unionize, and I just have a really hard time getting on board with it that again is you have see fighter. Lauren murphy. I mean, I would love to see fighters get signed to the USC and right off the bat. They're making you know, way more money like, you know, enough to live off of for an entire year. Like, I think that would be great. But I don't know if it's feasible. I don't know what the US's finances are the budgets workout or any of that works part of that mystery is intentional the UFC as we mentioned is privately owned. An investor group led by the w EMMY IMG agency bought it in two thousand sixteen for about four billion dollars. Dollars. If we unionize and suddenly W E, I m says, okay? Well, this isn't what we anticipated when we bought the sea. So we're going to have to cut out a bunch of divisions. So that we can afford to pay the fighters that we have left, and so they get rid of the less popular divisions say and now you're getting rid of the fringe weight classes in the women's weight classes and stuff like that will now have gone from you know, maybe making a smaller portion of the pie to making nothing. Murphy situation highlights one of the common problems for any sort of collective action whether in sports labor or anywhere, the people with the most to gain the Lauren Murphy's of the world, usually don't have much leverage. They can just be replaced. The superstars meanwhile do have leverage, but they often have little incentive to push for collective action. One exception was tennis champion, Billie. Jean King who in nineteen Seventy-three threaten to boycott the US open unless it awarded equal prize mu-. Money for women and men the US Tennis Association met her demands king also helped found the Women's Tennis Association, which push for equal prize money in all the major tournaments and helped turn tennis into one of the few sports in which the women's competition is arguably as high profile as the men's there's a movement currently underway in beach volleyball to gain more leverage for the athletes again with the female superstar leading the charge for so long. It's been one top athlete raising their hands saying that's not enough. And if one top athlete boycott, who cares, you know. And that the divide and conquer strategy happens. All the time that again is Kerri Walsh Jennings. One of the most decorated and high profile players in beach volleyball history, the athletes have no leverage because the athletes aren't unified. And we've been told for so long that your sport a small, this is what you deserve. This is as good as it gets in two thousand seventeen Walsh Jennings was part of a group of players that tried to negotiate a new deal with the AVP the association of volleyball. Sessions which runs the biggest beach volleyball tour in the country with eight events year. It is not a big moneymaker for the athletes the top player last year made I think just under just over thirty eight thousand dollars, we pay for training pay for coaches, we pay for travel, which pay for hotel, and that was a top player in the country like many sports leagues and tours the operates in a way that might make you think monopoly, so they own you for three hundred sixty five days for possibly eight days of work that you're probably not even maybe if you lose your first to your maybe making five hundred bucks. And so it's just the athletes are being held hostage. Basically a gun was held the player's head saying if you don't sign this, we're gonna fold the tour. There was no other alternative. We got calls the night before the deadline girls. Crying saying Kerry, we want to sit with you and fight with you. But I can't pay rent unless I play in this tournament next week in the end Walsh Jennings refused to sign the contract. But. She's sympathetic to the players did sign. Oh for sure. And I understand that no other choice and some people never agreed with us. They're like, you know, I believe this is it, and we should be grateful. That ADP is giving us these limited opportunities. And that's totally fine. I'm the CEO of my life. I do not want to give the reins to my life and my success to someone else's hands. And I do not want to be kept small as one of the stars of her sport wall strandings had the leverage to walkaway to her. It wasn't just about the money. She feels the AP doesn't have a vision for growing the sport in a way that will benefit the athletes. I want in October or November of twenty sixteen and set can you please lay out the next four years? We have this contract coming up, please give me your plans for growth for all these things. There was euro plans for growth they were going to go away from TV. It was going to be an exclusive contract for eight events maybe up to ten by twenty twenty. They would not increase the prize money that wasn't in their business model. They said so she started alternate tour called P, fourteen forty. Replant form and fourteen forty for the number of minutes in a day, Walsh Jennings. Wants to push people to use every minute wisely. We knew in creating p fourteen forty that. If we were just to be another viable property that hosts events, we would not be sustainable business. And so it's competition, health and wellness personal development entered entertainment. So we are a festival we're not available tournament. We are full blown festival one big problem. A lot of players that Walsh Jennings would like to play in her events are under an exclusive AVP contract. So ADP has eight events a year if you wanna play anywhere else you have to ask for dispensation and everyone who's ask for dispensation to play in our vents, even though we scheduled around their events. We're not conflicting at all. We're in their off-season. They've been told no Walsh Jennings is forty years old fairly ancient for competitive athlete. She's preparing now for the twenty twenty summer Olympics in Tokyo, which will likely be her last if nothing else. Her new startup league is a great project to be involved in. When her playing days are finally over. There is a famous saying every athlete dies twice once when they draw their last breath, the other when the hang up there's a point at which they'll stop doing what they've been doing since they were kids the thing. That's driven them an often given shape to their lives. It's inevitable, and it's dreaded a sort of living afterlife. I think about the end meaning the specific moment that it ends. I think about the moment I tell my wife. I think about the moment I tell my family. I think about those moments that's JJ Rettig who's playing in his thirteenth season in the NBA currently with Philadelphia seventy Sixers, and it's it's anxiety inducing. It's it it. Sometimes I actually if I'm having a dark moment, and I. Think of that moment, I cry like, I I think about what I'm gonna do after basketball on a daily basis. And there's a level of fear of the other side, and my hate to say this. But so much of my identity in any professional athlete is wrapped up in your sport. You know, since I was eight or nine years old like I've been a basketball player. It's what I've done. I think that's a question that a lot of fighters really struggle with Lauren. Murphy of the UFC is thirty five years old fighting kind of becomes your whole identity. And because it takes so much of our time. It's our entire lives. It can be hard to move on this entwined identity, personal and professional is something that Sudirman catas- has been studying for years. I'm a professor of sociology at Columbia University in New York Makati tries to understand how individuals operate within groups in all sorts of settings it my my method is to spend as much time with groups Dr. People get to know the world a little bit. I started with street gangs, boy longtime ago about thirty years ago gun traffickers and prostitutes people who are doing all sorts of legal things. And since then I spent a couple of years at the FBI, and that's my that's my chosen profession in life. Spend as much time with people and get their story. He's had a lot of success getting their stories, but professional athletes are particularly tricky. It's a little difficult for me to just show up on the sideline and put a hoodie on and pretend that a member of the team. So I have to create opportunities to observe one such opportunities came via program. He developed to teach athletes often toward the end of their careers about business skills or philanthropy. This let him see up close how they were adjusting to the afterlife while the life of an athlete. Elite from very early in their career is dominated and regimented by people other than themselves. This kind of all encompassing controlled setting has a name in sociology, it's called total institution. An example of a total institution would be a prison. So your your day structure for the moment, you get up. They tell you where to go with the Wendy one to shower and so on. Thank attach was interested to see how athletes having spent so much time in a total institution could adjust to a more fluid setting like an office. He found there were some surprising advantages a lot of professional athletes. I find handle interpersonal conflict, very well. And they are used to it. They are used to being told that they didn't perform well, the need to perform better they need to work better in the team than to listen better all sorts of things that many of us are including me are very fearful of an office setting. We're going to get reviewed. We're gonna get assess is often done by Email at late at night. And these folks are really really good just having someone walk up to them or going to somebody and not having it out, but just getting past whatever's in between and blocking them, but this upside Venkatesh discovered has a downside most of us, non former athletes aren't accustomed to having someone get in our face like that Venkatesh recalls. One former football player he calls them. Derek who was working in sales at an investment firm. He noticed that on the floor the Renault open spaces he was used to locker rooms that he was used to not having a lot of privacy. And it was difficult for him to to work in a team setting. When what he was supposed to do was to us telecommunications or Email to make appointments or to reach out. And instead he would just be going down knocking on doors really hard going into offices crossing boundaries of and people just got really scared because here's this very big. Cook coming at them, and for Derek there was actually the opposite that when people were closing doors or people were sending him emails. He felt like that was impersonal, not polite. That was not affective. Why not why don't we just saw the problem immediately and move forward? So he had to go through a little bit of training, and you can imagine that that's not part of the normal on boarding that a that a company might do. Transitioning to this living afterlife can present all sorts of challenges. Studies of former NFL and NBA players even the ones who've made a lot of money show. They are grotesquely prone to bankruptcy. And remember, these are the lucky ones who made it. But the demands of their profession can make it really hard to have time to acquire real world skills. There's also the long term health consequences of playing competitive sports. A recent study of athletes from Indiana University found that by middle age they were twice as likely as non athletes to have health problems, including chronic injuries that affected their day to day activities. But even if you make it into middle age with your health and with your finances intact. They're still the risk of a full blown existential crisis. I mean, most people's journeys are so much longer that when they do succeed they like die a few years after something, you know, Dominique Foxworth again. It's an interesting thing to happen to somebody at this age, it feels like more of a midlife thing and for athletes. It's a unique thing successful athletes is unique thing that in your twenties thirties, you're like. Now, what part of it is missing the action Lauren Murphy thinks about the people she trains with I was surrounded by a team, and I had never experienced anything like that before in my life. We all had this thing in common where we wanted to compete, and we all wanted to do. Well, and we supported each other in that. And when you bleed, and sweat and cry with somebody every day, you know, you get to be pretty close to. There's also the fear that you will never be this good at anything again or as relevant JJ Rettig. Look, the reality is you have a lot more power a lot more juice a lot more relevancy when it says your name, and it says active NBA player versus your name retired NBA player. So me as a person nothing will have changed five years from now. But I I won't have active NBA player next to my name. The thought that cross your mind is like I'm really good at at basketball. I've done it a high level for a long time and have had success and provided me a very nice living. And like what if I try something else? And I'm just awful at it. I I feel like I'm as prepared as anyone for the other side of it. And it still scares me. Dominic Foxworth thought he was pretty prepared to he and his wife had a couple of kids. He didn't know exactly what he wanted to do other than keep winning. I went to business school because I was like all right now, I'm going to keep competing like I'll go to best business school. And then I got there and out surprise with like how much mushy soft classes that we have that was about. Our feelings, and integrity and all that stuff. And I do remember one professor said that. In wasn't to me directly. It was just to the class. But it felt he was talking to me directly. And what he said something to the fact of the operating system that used to to get here may not be that rating system that you need going forward. And like that resonated with me because I feel like that's definitely true for me. But I don't know they don't just like release updates for human. Modify mop rating system is is is slower more challenging process Foxworth thought he lake being chief operating officer of the NBA players union in New York. My wife was pregnant with our third child, and which she was not feeling good. And I was getting up at like six thirty to ride the subway to to work with a bunch of other people who aren't happy about where they were going to work, and I remember banking like my happy. I have enough money that I don't have to be unhappy for fun. He started writing about sports. Now, he writes end does broadcasting for a variety of ESPN outlets. I went to business school in part because I fancy myself as a smart person, who's more than an athlete. And so like there's parts of me. That's like embarrassed that I like right about sports and talk about sports. But then there's parts of me. That's like, this is awesome. Get to pick up my kids from school and take them to school. It's not that. Like, oh, my life is boring. It's like am. I doing the right thing am I doing the best thing. I can with this fortunate situation that I'm in what also like excessive. I think is a feeling of loneliness, honestly, which and it's not like I've three kids in my wife, and I'm not like a loan, obviously, a loved them and have fun with them. But throughout my life. I have. Have been almost myopically focused on a goal which being focused on that goal. I gave me purpose. And I'm sure I'm going to butcher the native quote, but it's something to the effect of when a man has a why he can bear almost anyhow. And like, I was I didn't I don't drink. Now. Never drank in my life. I never smoke. We like I was singly focussed on doing everything every decision. I made was like all right. I'm gonna get closer to go. And I my people I was close with in high school like those aren't my friends anymore. People close with in college like not really my friends anymore. And then at thirty five I'm in DC where my wife has. A bunch of family and friends friends that she's been close with since they want a second grade. And like, and I'm like. I don't really have that. So certainly don't like feel sad or anything. But these things that I am becoming more aware of now. I feel like I'm in a perpetual state of transition, which is interesting and uncomfortable at the same time. Thanks to Dominic Foxworth and all the other athletes we heard from today and throughout our hidden side of sports series. Also the team and league officials scholars and everyone else if you want to hear my full conversation with Foxworth it was a long one fascinating will be publishing that soon. Meanwhile, coming up next time on freakonomics radio. My name is rugged rodgen. He was one of the very few people who essentially predicted the financial crisis. It was good. There was a reason for concern Roger has been busy since then including a stint as head of the central Bank of India. So what's he worried about now quite a few things, including the global taste for populist politics. It's the onces to provide which often are too easy and wrong at the same time wrongheaded, populism bad economics and Rogers prescription getting back to community. What's next time on freakonomics radio? Radio is produced by Stitcher, and w productions this episodes produced by Andres Kelco, Derek John Alvin mouth and Alison Craig low with help from Matt strap and Harry Huggins air staff also includes Greg Rippin Zach Lipinski we had helped this week from Nelly Osborne. Our theme song is Mr. fortune by the Hitchhiker's all the other music was composed by the we scare you can subscribe to freakonomics radio on apple podcasts or ever you. Get your podcast the entire archive is available on the Stitcher app or at freakonomics dot com, where we also publish transcripts and show notes and much more. We can also be found on Twitter, Facebook and Lincoln or via Email at radio at freakonomics dot com. Freakonomics radio also plays on most of your better NPR stations. Check your local station for details as always thanks for listening. Stitcher.

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