Fame Is No Protection Against Exploitation.
From the NFL to Hollywood, notoriety does not protect us from capitalism's reach.
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It’s an all-too-common belief in the American psyche that if you’re a publicly recognizable figure, you’ve been emancipated from the problems plaguing the working class. As the thought goes, if strangers stop you on the street and ask for selfies, then you must have accrued enough wealth and social capital that things like exploitation and mistreatment are far from your concern.
While I wish this were the case, it is unfortunately false. Despite the coupling of the “rich and famous,” in a capitalist society, fame (or even the perception of fame) is not enough to alleviate the many forms of mistreatment inherent to our system. Just because someone is a public figure or loosely attached to a prominent organization (such as Hollywood, the NFL, etc.), it does not mean they are not exploitable.
If you’re reading this on the day of publication (September, 7th, 2023), then the 2023 NFL season is only hours away. As you may remember, last season was marred by Damar Hamlin’s collapse and resuscitation during a primetime Monday night game. Since then, Hamlin has been used by the NFL as a publicity prop, put forth by the league to win some much-needed public relations points. Prior to his injury, Hamlin was a relatively obscure player, far from the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers.
While many are quick to assume any and all NFL players are superstar millionaires, the truth is quite bleaker. Under the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the Players’ Association, players such as Hamlin are not guaranteed post-career health insurance, a pension, or disability benefits. To earn those they must play for three seasons, a requirement only about half the people who set foot on an NFL field will satisfy. Despite generating over $18.6 billion for the NFL in 2022, a sizable number of the players will not receive these benefits, which are direly important to those of them who suffer life-altering injuries from their short careers, particularly the degenerative brain disease CTE.
In a similar vein, retired NFL player Michael Oher, whose life was the subject of the award-winning film The Blind Side, recently filed a lawsuit against his “adoptive” family, the Tuohys. “Adoptive” is in quotations because, according to Oher, the Tuohys never actually adopted him but rather deceived him into signing into a conservatorship, which gave them the power to make legal and financial decisions on his behalf. The Tuohys then funneled Oher to their preferred football program (they were lifetime boosters for Ole Miss) and eventually made millions off of the movie rights to Oher’s life, which Oher claims he never received a dime of.
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