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Marshawn Lynch and Work to Rule

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Is Marshawn Lynch actually engaging in a labor action by his refusal to talk to the press? Sarah Jaffe makes a compelling case that Lynch’s continued defiance of the NFL and his refusal is actually a work-to-rule action:

Lynch may be alone in his actions at the moment, but it seems fairly clear that in following the letter of the NFL’s law — showing up to the press conference, and verbalizing an answer to a question — he’s demonstrating that he, not Roger Goodell or anyone else, controls the conditions of his labor.

Jaffe also connects Lynch’s actions to a topic she writes a lot about: emotional labor.

There is no doubt that Lynch gives the game everything he’s got and more — we should always remember when we watch football or any other physical, contact sport that we are watching people literally putting their safety and lives on the line for our entertainment. So why, on top of all that, does the NFL demand that its players show up at press conferences and answer the same inane questions with a ready smile?

Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild defines “emotional labor” as the work we do to manage our emotions so as to produce a desired emotional state in others. We expect pro athletes to paste on a smile and explain why they won, how they lost, what it felt like to fumble the ball or throw that interception that put the other team ahead, minutes after they’ve been pounded within an inch of their lives.

The NFL doesn’t only demand emotional regulation at press conferences, though. It wants its players to behave a certain way on the field as well. Remember last season, when Lynch’s teammate Richard Sherman was fined for taunting San Francisco 49ers players and excoriated by the (mostly white) press for an emotional interview in which, among other things, he crowed to reporter Erin Andrews, “I’m the best corner in the game!”

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

It’d be nice to see the NFL Players Association step in here and at least say something about the league’s constant harassment of Lynch. Except that the NFLPA is absolutely worthless, with far less power than any of the other professional sports unions. Thus this devastating article at Deadspin today calling for the NFL players to unionize and acting like the NFLPA doesn’t even exist. Because that’s not far off. This might be the single best put-down of a bad union I have ever read.

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