The Gig Economy Never Leaves You
The NFL loves treating its own players as expendable; the rest of American industry shares that affection.
by Drew Magary
Nov 7 2019, 7:00pm
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz
Drew Magary’s Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo ran every Thursday at Deadspin during the NFL season. Buy Drew’s book here.
This column isn’t supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be here. For over a decade, I wrote this column for Deadspin, and I figured it would just always live there. That’s the naïve pact you sometimes make with yourself when you take a full-time job. You take it and you believe that you’ll keep that job—and perhaps get promoted to better and more lucrative iterations of that job within your company—so long as you’re good at what you do. And I’m good at what I do. My immediate bosses at Deadspin had the numbers to prove it.
None of that ultimately mattered. Getting older means understanding that your job is not yours to control. Last week I quit Deadspin, along with the rest of my co-workers. This was not planned. We didn’t hatch some zany scheme to all walk out, middle fingers raised, right around Halloween. But my boss and friend Megan Greenwell quit the site this summer, and her temp replacement Barry Petchesky—another boss and friend—was fired last week in a huff by a shitheel CEO who long ago determined that he knew more about how to run a collection of websites than the people who had been running them effectively, despite endless distractions, for years and years. Whatever protections existed between our work and upper management interfering with that work had now been effectively destroyed, for me and for everyone else at the site.
As a rule, I believe you shouldn’t quit a job unless you already have another one lined up. Strangely, I did have one lined up back in July, when I was informally offered a job at Sports Illustrated. I was gonna be able to do all my usual Deadspin shit there, uncensored. I was gonna be part of an influx of name brand sportswriters they were gonna bring in, as Yahoo college football writer Pat Forde had been, to show both the world and then-current SI staffers that their new owners were eager to invest in both good people and in good work.
I told my Deadspin bosses the offer was coming. Upper management made a “token” (their words!) effort to retain me by offering a meager raise that was nowhere close to what SI had offered. As far as I was concerned, I was gone. I had a goodbye post written and ready to fire. All I needed was SI’s formal offer in writing, which I was assured was imminent. Chris Stone, the man who initially offered me the job as then-EIC of SI, told me it was coming. He even whipped out his phone at lunch one time and SHOWED me the offer he was going to send.
Weeks passed. Then months. Eventually I asked Stone if this was all some clumsy prank. The next day, Stone was pushed out. Later that week, nearly half of SI’s staff was cut loose, instantly rendering the brand radioactive and its owners untrustworthy. When I asked the new CEO if SI would still honor my deal (provided I still wanted it), he told me that my situation needed a “pause” and that maybe we could have coffee to discuss it. I was not interested in coffee.
That’s how I ended up losing a job I never had to begin with. I was something of a phantom layoff. Thank god I still have my Deadspin job, I thought to myself. But then Megan left. The walls were quickly closing in there and, once Barry was given the axe, they finally smashed into one another. I have three kids and am still recovering from a near-death experience caused by a traumatic brain injury. I needed insurance and I needed money and I needed Deadspin as it was. So it wasn’t easy for me to accept the idea of quitting my job on the spot.
But I did. After Barry was fired, a couple more of my colleagues resigned. Two became eight. Eight became a dozen. A dozen became everyone. None of us wanted to write for whatever that site was going to become, and none of us wanted to do it without each other. That’s how I ended up quitting and losing two jobs in the same number of months, at two places that now serve as prominent harbingers of the Great Media Apocalypse. I wasn’t supposed to be at Deadspin when it burst into flames. But, in an extremely odd way, I’m glad I was. I’m glad I was there to quit with my friends and draw a firm line of demarcation between Deadspin As It Was and New Coke Deadspin.
It’s all very romantic, but that romance quickly fades away. As I write this, I am unemployed. VICE is paying me for this column but not as a full-time staffer. Like everyone else, I gotta call around and sniff out leads and take freelance gigs here and there and hope that those gigs blossom into a salaried job down the road. Perhaps that happens here. Perhaps elsewhere. I am fortunate in that I already have contract work in place over at GEN magazine to help pay the bills. Plus I have money stashed away, ostensibly to help with the kids’ college, but also in the event of a professional emergency, like this one. I could, at a basic level, afford to quit my job when I did.
But this is the first time I haven’t had a full-time job in seven years. And believe me, it’s not a comfort to know that. I freelanced in advertising for several years. I freelanced at Deadspin for five years before they took me on full-time. All those freelancer feelings are coming back to me once more, if they ever left at all. When you freelance, you know that every job is temporary. You might get paid well, but you can’t assume that will always be the case. I remember being pathologically incapable of turning down work when I freelanced. Every assignment I didn’t do was money lost. I felt as if I already HAD the money and was giving it away by not doing the work.
That meant I gleefully accepted multiple gigs at once, and on weekends, and over holidays. I can’t speak for other freelancers out there, but a kind of PTSD sets in if you do this long enough, where you always fear the faucet will be shut off with a cursory email from a temp boss or, worse, no emails of any sort. There’s such a short distance between “I freelance” and “I’m unemployed” that the two statements often feel indistinguishable.
This is supposed to be a column about the NFL, although I don’t always abide by that self-imposed edict up at the top of it. In fact, the G/O Media folks publicly bitched about the LAST edition of this column not being sportsy enough. Escaping their dreaded clutches has left me with the ironic aftereffect of actually WANTING to talk and write about sports (Deadspin was still primarily a sports blog, because we all LIKED sports), and so I’m gonna link this column up to sports right now for my sake and only my own.
There are NFL games this weekend. Playing in the NFL is a full-time job, and it can be a pretty cushy one if you happen to be Aaron Rodgers or some other superstar. But the median NFL pay is down in the six figures. That’s a lot to you and me, but that money goes fast when you have people to support, taxes to pay, and you’re not gonna make that dough for very long. Playing in the NFL is its own temp gig. The players know their careers will end, and they know they’re going to have to adjust to a much longer and less well-paying professional afterlife. The NFL warns players about this at rookie symposiums. The union does likewise. They want players prepared for life in the normal world.
But it’s hard to prepare for that when you’re not experiencing it in real time. And I reckon it’s even harder when you’re suffering from catastrophic brain damage from your playing days. I also have brain damage, but I got enough of my noggin still left to remember all of my professional traumas and to fear them recurring. The NFL loves treating its own players as expendable and frankly, the rest of American industry shares that predilection. You are their pieces to move around on the board, and that’s often true no matter what state of employment you happen to be in. That knowledge sticks with you forever, especially when you’re a freelancer, constantly on the hustle. I won’t be naïve about whatever job I get next, if I get one. But really, what difference does it make?
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Seahawks at Niners: It’s not as insidious as the old NFL Shop family ad that featured repulsive relationships between Bengals fans and Eagles fans and Bowling Green fans, but I have spent the entirety of this week hearing THE CHAMP IS HERE from the new NFL Shop ads playing on a loop in my fucking head. I own NFL Shop merchandise. I do NOT look like a champ in it, okay? I look like I overpaid for a hoodie that was generously sized to help boost my self-esteem. Everyone in these ads looks like they’re about to dance into a Corona ad. They aren’t real NFL fans. I’ve seen real NFL fans and I’ve seen the real vomit stains they carry on them like a badge of honor. Can’t believe an ad would LIE to me.
Panthers at Packers: Cam Newton is out for the year and Christian McCaffrey is a legitimate MVP contender, so please do stay away from any white Panthers fan in your immediate vicinity. Right now they’re hornier than Jerry Richardson when he interviews a prospective female intern.
Chargers at Raiders: This entire season has been a series of mixed signals from Jon Gruden. The Raiders are much better than they were supposed to be, and Derek Carr has the best passer rating of his career! Right now! That’s a thing that’s actually transpiring! I watched Gruden give his postgame locker room speech after a victory in London and I was ready to run through a fucking herd of bulls for that man. But then I get shit like this…
Turns out Jon Gruden has his heart in the right place, he’s just really stupid sometimes. If only I had had two decades of ample evidence to illustrate this before I went assuming the worst about him.
In other news, the Chargers triumphantly denied reports that they were considering moving to London:
First of all, leave it to the Chargers to tweet out a supportive audience from a movie because they can’t find a real one in Los Angeles. Secondly, they SHOULD move to fucking London. London wants a team and L.A. doesn’t want them. They’re a vagabond franchise that consistently plays its home games in front of hostile fans at a local skate park. Dean Spanos is either operating under the delusion that anyone in California gives a shit about him, or he thinks that playing up his defiance will somehow get London to build Wembley Stadium 2 for him for free. Or both those things. It’s probably both those things.
Rams at Steelers: I am probably alone on this but I think Chunky Soup is right up there among foods that sound better than they actually are. Every NFL game, I see the ads and get all horny for hearty chunks of beef and potato. But have you ever eaten this shit? It’s hobo food for men who still wear aftershave. If you want legitimate chunky goodness, you got make your own New England Clam Chowder.
Vikings at Cowboys
Cardinals at Bucs
Giants at Jets: You know, Cam Newton got shit for not diving on a fumble in the Super Bowl. But look at my son Sam Darnold shying away from an errant snap against Miami last week.
HE DOESN’T EVEN FUCKING MOVE! There’s a seven-point swing sitting on the ground right behind Mono Boy and he can’t even remember to react to it. Sam Darnold is no longer my son. I am formally disowning him in this space. My new son is Russell Wilson. He’s one cheesy dipshit but I think that young man has real potential.
Bills at Browns: The Browns suck but Odell Beckham has been useful this season for highlighting the more draconian and idiotic facets of the NFL dress code:
I understand that the NFL has licensing agreements with apparel companies and what not, but Odell’s cleats were made by the official provider of cleats to the NFL (Nike) and they were designed by Nike for gameplay before the season even fucking started. So we’re not even talking about crossing a sponsor here. We’re talking about the NFL extending its dominion of bullshit integrity over your shoes, your socks, and other minor accessories when you step out onto the field. They’re the strangest and most needless kind of control freaks. Let Odell wear fucking ballet slippers out there if he wants. It doesn’t matter.
Falcons at Saints: You might be new to this column since it’s never appeared at VICE before so, just to give you the heads up, I don’t write up every game. I skip a few. Like this inevitable beatdown. Nothing worth elaborating on here.
Lions at Bears
Chiefs at Titans
Dolphins at Colts: Brian Flores got a Gatorade bath after Miami won their first game a week ago. This is Gatorade bath inflation. He should have been forced to drink the entire cooler instead.
Ravens at Bengals: I know the Ravens beat the shit out of the Pats last week but I was too distracted by Greg Roman’s sausage fingers to notice. Look at these bad boys. Each of those fingers looks like a snowman made of liverwurst. They’re majestic to behold. They cut to Roman up in the box during Sunday Night Football and I thought he was gonna eat me.
Pregame Song That Makes Me Want To Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
"Turn it Out" by Death From Above 1979! From Ryan:
I'm sure someone's recommended this to you before, but "Turn it Out" by Death From Above 1979 (now called Death From Above, they were able to drop the 1979) shows that you really only need two dudes to achieve wall-smashing sound.
I’m sad they dropped the 1979, though. I don’t know WHY 1979 was in the band name but it made that name sound cool as shit.
Gregg Easterbrook Memorial Haughty Dipshit Of The Week
Legendary sportswriter and occasional fabulist Mitch Albom long ago pivoted to acting as resident lawn guardian for his hometown Detroit Free Press. Prior to Halloween, he penned this urgent missive lamenting the end of bygone days when you could wear racist Halloween costumes without the Racial Justice Snowflakes getting all huffy about it:
This happened every Halloween when I was a kid. The doorbell would ring, usually at night, when my siblings and I were already home from our candy walks. We’d open the door, all excited, and some teenager would be standing on the porch in jeans and a sweatshirt. “Trick or treat,” he’d mumble. We’d give him candy, but our faces reflected our disappointment. “He didn’t even try to dress up!” we’d whisper when he left. Such lack of effort, we decided, was hardly worthy of a Milky Way bar, let alone a full pack of Necco Wafers. Today, however, things have changed.
How so, oh wise sage?
Today, if that kid rang my doorbell, I’d have to give him double candy, an approving nod, and a pat on the back for being so forward-thinking.
Definitely. You’d definitely have to do that. AOC would materialize at your doorstep and demand you hand it over. That’s a real thing that happens in 2019.
That’s because, thanks to our hyped-up, politically overcorrect, point-fingers-and-yell society, there is almost no Halloween costume you can wear without offending somebody, being ridiculed on the internet, perhaps even losing your job.
Yeah! You can only dress up as a ghost, a werewolf, Frankenstein, a pro athlete, a witch, Big Bird, an inflatable dinosaur, a banana, a hot dog, an astronaut, a firefighter, a police officer, a zombie, a ghoul, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Batman, Superman, literally any Harry Potter character, Bart Simpson, one of the Frozen sisters, the Demogorgon from Stranger Things, Pinhead from Hellraiser, Mike Lupica, Charlemagne, Santa Claus, or Albert Brooks’ character from Broadcast News, and that’s IT.
You might as well go in street clothes.
I know! If I dress as a Minion, someone from the BLAME AND SHAME internet could cost me my job as personal stenographer to Morrie!
Don’t believe me?
Nope. Sure don’t.
OMG THE YOU MEAN THE INTERTUBES? With the tweeter and the FaceChat and all that? You talk about spooky!
It’s enough to keep you home, eating tofu.
Like a WEENIE.
In case you’ve been out of the Halloween loop for a while…
As you have been for the past half century, it appears.
…allow me to sum up the lists of costumes the experts agree you should NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT WEARING. A handful are obvious. Holocaust victim. Mass-shooting victim. Vladimir Putin. A terrorist. The World Trade Center towers on fire.
Actually those are all pretty good costumes.
Others are a mark of the times. Harvey Weinstein. Matt Lauer. Any of Kevin Spacey’s characters.
Oh no. I can’t believe my child’s imagination has to abide by such vicious constraints. He REALLY wanted to go as James Toback.
So good luck finding anything safe. That kid who knocked on our door in jeans and a sweatshirt was ahead of his time.
What a fucking baby. Go write another supermarket aisle novel, you mutant-eared old shit.
Magic Johnson’s Lock Of The Week: Lions +3
“I believe the Detroit Lions, who are 3-4-1, are better than the Chicago Bears, who are 3-5. So, so proud to meet up with FastClack CEO Marv Derpley at this year’s BlindCon! They had blinds manufacturers come in from over 12 different states! Biggest thrill of my life! We had an incredible panel about the future of window coverings, including SmartBlinds! These blinds are made by dwarves in an underground pit! Talk about efficient!”
2019 Magic record: 3-4-1
Fantasy Player Who Deserves To Die A Slow, Painful Death
It’s David Johnson, who was once among the biggest names in fantasy but now finds himself hurt again and in a dreaded RBBC with Chase Edmonds (cannot believe he has that name and doesn’t play baseball) and newly acquired Kenyan Drake. One year. We got one great year of David Johnson before he turned to absolute SHIT. I deserve an apology but can’t say I expect one.
Bad Local Commercial Of The Week!
Jim “The Hammer” Shapiro! This video is out of focus but that only adds to the commercial’s belligerent luster. From Kelly:
I think he's dead and I know it's not current, but anyone who grew up in Syracuse in the late 80s/early 90s will remember Jim "THE HAMMER" Shapiro. He might be an S.O.B., but he's YOUR S.O.B.! Tell me this nerd's not metal as fuck.
He is. I’ll hire any lawyer who’s like, “Listen, I can’t MURDER your enemies, but I can do the next best and somewhat legal thing!” That’s a man I want on my side.
Fire This Asshole!
Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we’ll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year’s end or sooner. And now, your potential 2019 chopping block:
(*—possible midseason firing)
There are four first-year coaches on that list and I know that seems like a generous amount but I can’t remember a year where so many of these new guys, Bruce Arians included, did such a visibly shitty job of coaching in what was supposed to be an exciting kickoff to their respective tenures. I don’t think Adam Gase even WANTS to coach anymore. I think he wants to sit in a film room 20 hours a day and eat cold meatball subs. Coaching an actual game, and losing it by 75, only gets in the way of that dream. I pity him.
Great Moments In Grandpa History
Reader Jesse sends in this story I’ll call YES WE PECAN:
My Grandpa Bill had an interesting palate. His two favorite deserts were black jelly beans and pecan pie. Thanksgiving was the only time of year he got pecan pie. But it was a big family and there was never enough pie to go around. So he started taking steps to ensure he'd have some extra pie for when everybody cleared out. And by "taking steps," I mean he'd sneak back to the dessert area while everyone was fixing their plates and cut out a piece or two for himself. He'd then hide this clandestine pie, usually in a desk drawer or filing cabinet. He finally got busted when he overreached and tried to snake away an entire pie.
Same grandpa considered himself something of an outdoorsman (don't all grandpas?). Our family had a little patch of land out in the country that was mostly forest, but a nice big clearing and a pond. Here in the Midwest, you'll hear spaces like this called "hunting land." Grandpa started out with a small camper out there, then eventually got a few uncles to help him build a small cabin.
He spent a lot of time out there, clearing brush, mowing the long grass, and just basically trying to avoid annoying my grandma. One day, well into his 70s, he decides to take it upon himself to cut down a dead oak tree. So he gasses up a chainsaw and sets out. Of course, he tells no one what he’s doing. Midway through the job, the dead part of the tree gives out, falls on him, and he's not able to lift it off of his legs. But the chainsaw is still in arm's reach, so he grabs it, and somehow manages to cut himself free without severing any limbs in the process. This was still in the era before cell phones, so that Christmas we bought him an air horn he could sound if he ever got in trouble like that again.
Robert Evans MVP Watch!
Time to start thinking about who the leaders will be for the NFL's MVP award. So every week, the late and legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans will join us to give us his assessment. Take it away, Mr. Evans.
“Baby, my choice for MVP is Russell Wilson of the Seahawks! Elusive? You know it. A star? Only of the brightest kind. As for me baby, I’ve moved onto the great studio in the sky. Development hell? More like development HEAVEN. All my old friends are here. Jerry Weintraub? Already played infinity sets of tennis with the man. Natalie Wood? Still a knockout. Richard Nixon? He’s got his moments. You can’t be scared of death when you lived as large as I did, baby. Things end, but the gift is that they ever happened to begin with. Like when ol’ Den Hopper and I drove Billy Wilder’s Peugeot into a lake before doing Quaaludes and sleeping with his mistress. The big man here lets me watch that anytime I feel like it, which is enough times to make Kathleen Kennedy marvel at the ticket count. You see, up here? Up here is life’s screening room.”
Gametime Snack Of The Week
Tacos! I went to Mexico City two weeks ago. It was 7 am and I was both hungry and bored, so I slipped out of my hotel and went to a street taco vendor who was selling carne asada tacos to locals and to glaring tourists who needed a quick breakfast. I asked for two tacos and one of the dudes, who was rolling a joint, starting laughing at me. This is a standard reaction people have when beholding me in person. He was like, “Cinco tacos? Cinco, si?” And I was like, “Nah, nah, solamente dos por favor.” Then leans in and he says to me in English, “You like the Mexican women?” And I was like, “Sure yeah, they’re cool.” Then he was like, “The women here? [low whistle]” Then he gave me my tacos. They were spicy as shit. Good breakfast!
Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week
Ozujsko! Ozo you didn’t! From Bob:
Behold Ozujsko from Croatia. Not the shittiest beer I've ever had, but by American craft beer standards it was a standard European macro lager. It was everywhere in Croatia on a week long trip with a couple of buddies to visit a friend of ours. Half liter cans were a bonus.
I bet they were. Croatia is right there on my list of not terribly exotic locales I’d like to visit just to say I went somewhere exotic. Dubrovnik is like Fort Meyers to Europeans, but that won’t stop me from pretending I trekked to a land of phantoms and haunted carriages.
Jim Tomsula’s Lifehack Of The Week!
“You wanna put out a fire? You don’t piss on it, okay? You piss on a fire, you just make it angry. But if you do your OTHER business on top of a fire, that’s gonna rob of it all of the oxygen and what not. I have personally put out six different boxcar fires using only my courage and a healthy portion of used navy beans. You gotta drop your britches fast though! If the fire gets too big, it’s like eating hot sauce through the wrong opening. I got the battle scars to prove it.”
Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Bengals Fans
Booksmart, which is best movie I’ve seen this year and better than any movie I saw last year. I watched this movie on my phone on a plane but, fortunately for me, I was flying United and NOT Delta, which just ate shit because they cut out a sex scene from it that’s not only funny but also integral to the plot (SPOILER: we find out who the murderer is during it).
Speaking of that scene, I was sitting right next to my wife as I was watching it unfold. You can watch unedited movies on planes now (so long as you’re not flying Delta, I guess), which means watching ANY sex scene in full—particularly if it happens to be a teenage sex scene and you’re a 43-year-old man staring at it—is a dicey undertaking. I tilted the screen away from my wife so she wouldn’t be like what is that, but then my phone was facing the aisle, so that anyone coming back from the john could catch a glimpse of two rowdy gals going at in on a bathroom floor. I regret nothing. Kinda. Watching the rough sex scene from Inherent Vice on my laptop in the window seat one time was WAY more awkward.
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
“One squirt and you're south of the border! Mmmmmm, incapacitating...”
Enjoy the games, everyone.