Mike Wilbon Says NFL Teams Are Like Plantations, Is Incorrect


Look, man … I get what Michael Wilbon was trying to say, here, and he doesn’t need to be yelled at or suspended or anything, but he said something today that was both inaccurate and poorly thought-out, and that’s if we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Here it is:

Plantations are places that were typically inhabited by slaves and their owners, back when that was legal. NFL teams are businesses with employees who are compensated for their labor, and are free to work in the NFL or not work in the NFL as they please. So NFL teams are in no commonly understood way similar to a plantation.

Wilbon was trying to make a valid point about NFL teams exercising control over the way those employees express themselves. The extent to which an employer ought to police the expressions — political or otherwise — of employees is a question worth debating, although I doubt Wilbon seriously wants to advance an argument that employers shouldn’t be allowed some control over what employees do and say when they’re on the clock.

The real argument is about where to draw the line, an argument that is difficult to get to when you first have to spend your time knocking down hysterical statements that lack any actual content.

The equally erroneous flip side to Wilbon’s argument is that these players are paid millions for playing a game so what are they whining about, the spoiled brats. Well, they aren’t complaining about their salaries. They’re trying to draw attention to systemic injustices faced by black Americans, and their salaries are wholly irrelevant to the conversation about what those injustices are and what might be done about them. Surely nobody really wants to argue that people with money are disqualified from expressing critical political opinions.

It is theoretically possible for us all to have this conversation in a way that is intellectually honest and fair to each perspective, but with each passing day we seem to draw further from that than the last.