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Is The NFL Combine A Modern-Day Meat Market?

Publish Date: 27/02/2012
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

A few weeks ago on Twitter, I heard someone call the NFL Combine one of the most troubling events in professional sports. They stated that it was reminiscent of a cattle exchange, where players are poked, prodded, and put on display - with people even betting on the movement of players via online bookmakers worldwide. Their argument was that these events are similar to slavery in the early years of American culture where slaves were put on stages and people were invited in to survey what they had to offer and bid on them.

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If you are familiar with William Rhoden's book, Forty Million Dollar Slaves, you know that this ideology has been presented in several forms in history. Rhoden himself received criticism for his analogy of slavery. That being said, this week, NFL Network has more than three hundred NFL draft prospects subjecting themselves to workouts, bizarre intelligence tests, psychological screenings and prodding physical exams. At this year's combine, like the players interviewed for the study, many will find the experience invasive at best and, at times, degrading. Worst of all, perhaps, is that many black and white athletes will liken it to a slave market.

In essence, the combine is not a slave market. It is a venue for potential NFL players to display their talents and abilities. I am sure it sounds a lot like what we have heard in our history books that slaves went through, but I think that the scouts from the various teams have every right to examine players from head-to-toe, because they will be investing hundreds of thousands and, possibly, millions of dollars into those players.

Yes, I said millions of dollars. Slaves came nowhere near getting paid. In my honest opinion, if a player doesn't want to be evaluated, then he doesn't have to go. Being poked and prodded for a couple of days are a small price to pay for fame, life-long financial security, and the chance to play the game one loves for a living. There are millions of men across the country who would switch places with them in a heartbeat, so calling it a meat market is absolutely absurd.

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The difference is slaves didn’t have a choice. They were subjected to these events and no means of compensation was ever going to come their way. These athletes are putting themselves on display, because they want to be recognized and compensated for the hard work that they might have put in to separate themselves from their competitors.

It is amazing that the combine can be compared to a slave market. This is, by far, an overstatement, a lack of facts, and a poor historical comparison. Simply put, these athletes are trying to cash in on their athletic ability. The sizes of the salaries they will get are several times larger than what they could compete for in any other market (in most cases), especially more money than the one their education has prepared them for.

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11 Replies to Is The NFL Combine A Modern-Day Meat Market?

  1. JAG says:

    @DNKB - Very good points. I don't think Joe or anyone else here stated that the players should "suck it up because they're about to get millions". But I concede that I've heard that before.

    I agree that no one should be degraded or humiliated in order to obtain employment. However, from what I know, outside of a few knuckleheads asking idiotic questions, the Combine does not do this to people. These young men are presenting themselves as highly gifted and trained athletes. The teams have every right to verify this as they determine whom to select to play for their squad.

    Privacy rights are sacrified when applying for a job. Many positions require drug testing. Applying for certain sensitive government positions are a thoroughly intrusive and exhausitive experience which not only intrudes on your privacy, but those of your family and close friends. Most of us see this as necessary. I can't imagine anyone being comfortable with an airline pilot who has a cocaine habit.

    You are correct about the NFL player not always achieving lifetime financial security. It's common knowledge that many squander their fortunes. Hopefully, some of the seminars and workshops provided by the Combine are effective and make an impact.

    I suppose it doesn't have to be public but I don't see how making it public hurts anyone. People about to go into the NFL had better be prepared to perform in front of TV cameras. Also, the chances of someone being degraded or humiliated drop precipitously when cameras are around. However, I would agree that it would be in good taste not to publish the scores of folks who do not do well on the intelligence tests.

  2. DNKB says:

    I don't think that the combine is like the slavery auction block based on what the NFL and its teams are trying to do to - see potential new players in action. However, the media commentary/portrayal of the combine especially in the 27/7 news cycle era is giving validity to the idea of this event being akin to a modern version of the slave market where big animal like men are displayed for potential bidders looking to get the most bang for their buck.

    And I agree with most of the comments above but maybe to play devil's advocate a bit I wanted to bring up two points:

    1) Joe - you mention a lifetime of financial security and that going to the combine is a small price to pay. Well in the NFL financial security is not guaranteed. Most players outside of stars and sometimes stars get five years in the league and if these players aren't stars its not a guaranteed lifetime of financial security. Players can get enough to hold them for awhile but after being acclimated to a lifestyle in a higher income bracket this hinders their ability to be financial secure for life if they don't have another high paying job afterwards in say broadcasting or endorsement deals.

    2) The players risk their lives physically and personally when they come into the NFL. Sadly I don't have any NFL examples but there is the fictitious Jason Street FNL spinal injury that paralyzed him and the real life Eric LeGrand spinal injury. Injuries that ended both their careers. These players risk their lives each week in a way that is not seen in other sports, outside of futbol and rugby. Then there are the personal life affects. Sure groupies and Football "wives" may sound/feel good when you're 22 years old but when you are 27 years old at the end of your career and you want to start a real family, your NFL time hinders that because groupies still want you and many ladies/wifeys do not. So maybe in exchange for these future players/laborers sacrifices to make rich White men/bourgeoisie richer there could be a better way to "test" players. Does this event HAVE to be public? Tryouts/reviews aren't public in other sports. I don't see why this can't be a closed event.

    Basically, players shouldn't "suck it up because you're about to get millions" nor does the amount they could get paid take away from the problem with the borderline animalisation/commoditization of these young men.

  3. kathrine says:

    I think it is irresponsible to equate it to slavery. I agree with the points you made, the combine is a choice. Not to mentiont the fact that a franchise is about to invest millions of dollars into these men, and their bodies are the product. It would be irresponsible to throw money at them without evaluating them in drills, interviews, and whatnot. It's just another part of the professional sports machine.

    • Joe Simmons says:

      Katherine I couldn't have said it better. If you are going to invest millions, you better test the product.

  4. JAG says:

    Good post. Yes, there are instances where some of the interviews broken the barrier of good taste. (Was your mother a prostitute?)

    But, overall, the Combine is helpful for both the teams and the players as these young men in their early 20's prepare for a whole new world.

    Yes, there are measurements and drills. But this is necessary because college coaches will often fudge a players' numbers in order to help him get a look from a scout.

    What Rhoden and others don't mention is that many aspects of the Combine benefit the player. Seminars are held with accountants, police detectives, real estate experts, etc. in an attempt to prepare the players to handle their new found celebrity and riches. Many of these guys are going from having to borrow pizza money to a salary in the top 2% in the country in a matter of 3 or 4 months. The groupies, corrupt agents and hustlers are lined up and ready to fleece these guys like sheep going to slaughter.

    The Combine is not all that different from businesses who put their new employees through an evaluation and training program before they start working.

    • Joe Simmons says:

      Jag, once again on point my brotha. Love this part as well:

      "Many of these guys are going from having to borrow pizza money to a salary in the top 2% in the country in a matter of 3 or 4 months. The groupies, corrupt agents and hustlers are lined up and ready to fleece these guys like sheep going to slaughter."

      Well said my brother.

  5. Hood says:

    Good analogy. I was wondering when someone was going to address this issue.

  6. Reggie says:

    Never really looked at it in this perspective. It makes perfect sense though Joe. However I agree, the money these guys are going to be invested may warrant that they go through this type of testing. You want to make sure you are getting what you pay for.

    • Joe Simmons says:

      Big Reggie... Good to see you posting. And you are correct my friend.

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