Football is a brutal sport. Fans recently watched in horror as Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett ripped the opposing quarterback’s helmet off and proceeded to beat him with it. And the barbarities of the sport’s normal functioning, with brain damage for players as the norm, are well known. The NFL desperately needs reform of its dangerous and unfair labor practices, reforms that the league has worked to cover up.
But a new element is threatening to further block progressive change in the sport: Jeff Bezos.
Bezos is interested in buying an NFL team — perhaps, according to recent rumors, the Detroit Lions. It is unclear whether he is much of a sports fan, because though Bezos did watch February’s Super Bowl in a luxury suite with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, he’s rarely been spotted at games. Being a fan might not be necessary, however, when you’re as rich as he is. Bezos can afford to buy every team in the NFL, with enough left over for every NYC sports team. Other team owners seem to think that’s enough.
“The NFL could probably use him,” Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. “He’s smart. He’s successful. He’s got a lot of money. Those would be the requirements.”
But Bezos’s interest in buying a team in a league that is saturated with workers’ rights abuses should be highly suspect, given his own glaring record of employee abuse.
This year alone, Amazon has been hit with a flood of abuse allegations, including claims of workers urinating in bottles around Amazon warehouses so that they won’t miss harsh production deadlines. These abuses are especially severe during the holiday season, which Amazon warehouse workers have described as “two months of hell.” Reports from Cyber Monday 2018 told of unsafe work expectations, including instances like a Kansas weather state of emergency where Amazon workers were required to report for their Cyber Monday shifts.
Black Friday is often just as bad. As one worker put it:
On Black Friday and during the holiday season, everyone works six days a week. The associates work 10 hours a day, the managers 14 to 18. It’s mandatory overtime, the hours are not voluntary, and they are all on your feet . . . You weren’t allowed to use your PTO for Black Friday, and if you missed it, you were at risk of getting fired.
How would this kind of complete disregard toward workers’ well-being play out in the NFL? We don’t have any reason to believe Bezos wouldn’t run his team like his warehouses. If he does, he could get players injured or killed. Owners in the NFL set the tone for their team. They hire and select the entire coaching staff to fulfill their vision, and they can be as hands-on or hands-off about player experience as they want. If Bezos wanted to be totally in charge — as is the case with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who has also appointed himself general manager of the team — he could.
In the NFL, as in Amazon’s warehouses, injuries are incredibly common. Playing despite these injuries has killed many promising NFL careers in the past. Likewise, forcing warehouse employees to choose between termination and working while injured is a common Amazon practice. Would Bezos put similar pressure on his players to keep working through pain and injury?
And how would Bezos treat player illnesses? Sometimes — as in the case of New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, who contracted mononucleosis earlier this year and had to take a month off to protect his spleen — sickness can derail predictions of promising seasons. This kind of sick-leave policy wouldn’t be tolerated at Amazon. In the past, undercover investigations have revealed that warehouse workers risk losing their jobs if they are sick for more than four days. If Darnold had been forced to work under Amazon-like conditions, he almost certainly would have ruptured his spleen.
Even if his players would survive, Bezos has never shown any behavior suggesting he would support the kind of pro-worker policies that the NFL needs to focus on to maintain viewership in light of its recent scandals. More than two-thirds of NFL players are black, and the league has cracked down on black political activism. Given Amazon’s history of hiring black workers for mostly unskilled jobs and accusations of racial discrimination against minority delivery drivers, it is difficult to imagine Bezos taking action to reverse these problematic issues.
The NFL is in desperate need of pro-player reforms after decades of barbarities on the field. Jeff Bezos has done nothing as Amazon CEO to suggest he would support such efforts — his background is one of extreme hostility and disregard for workers. Fans need to say what owners will not: Jeff Bezos is unfit to own an NFL team.