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Just How Much of Ourselves Does a Paycheck Buy?

The negotiation of how much time, how much effort, and how much of a right the boss has to ask for more is where things get tricky.

by David Roth
30 May 2016, 12:00am

This article appeared in the May issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

Maybe it's because both are paid to do things that most of us wish to do more often, but porn stars and pro athletes have a difficult time getting people to take their bodies seriously.

Earlier this year, when adult-film actors testified against restrictions in their workplace, the New York Times poked fun at their outfits. When athletes say that their teams do not own the right to their bodies outright, an army of sports radio shouters tells them to stop whining. While their labor looks like our leisure, the rest of us have something in common with professional athletes.

For those of us who work for a living, whether we're sandwich artists, neurosurgeons, or power forwards, we more or less share the same deal: we trade our time and effort for a paycheck. The negotiation of how much time, how much effort, and how much of a right the boss has to ask for more is where things get tricky.

The issue for athletes, whose labor is the product their leagues sell, is complicated further by the fact that their bodies are the tools they use to do their work. In sports, wringing every bit of output from those bodies has been aided by biometric technology, which allows teams to track things like how much sleep a player gets. If a team believes that its contract amounts to a lease on a player's body and confers the right to monitor and manipulate that body as needed, the only time off a player could get would be during an out-of-body experience.

Team owners are pushing the boundaries here, and players' unions are pushing back. The NFL Players Association filed a grievance against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 for monitoring players' sleep patterns, and the National Basketball Players Association plans to challenge biometrics in what I expect to be a contentious negotiation over the league's next collective-bargaining agreement in 2017. The question, in every league, isn't just about privacy. It's about where the workplace ends.

That last bit probably feels familiar. For all the once-impossible things that technology allows us to do, it doesn't let us escape—the virtual office can be anywhere with a WiFi signal. It's one thing to feel tethered to your inbox; it's another for employers to monitor you and claim your body is their asset. But the fundamental question is the same: Just how much of ourselves does a paycheck buy?

This article appeared in the May issue of VICE magazine. Click HERE to subscribe.

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