Level Playing Field (2021) s01e02 Episode Script


The following is a presentation
I always joke that I got into Stanford
because of a 4.0/1600.
Not a GPA and an SAT score.
4.0 yards per carry.
1600 receiving yards.
I was a High School All-American
football player.
It gave me a tremendous opportunity
to go to this extraordinary school.
I feel like I owe so much to sports.
Columbus gets to it,
but not quite in time.
Booker with a nice catch.
Cory Booker, red shirt junior out
of Harrington Park, New Jersey.
But at Stanford,
I became very disillusioned.
I was watching
this multi-billion dollar industry,
about a 15 billion dollar
American industry,
creating millionaires
all over the place.
Business people, marketers,
coaches, lots of people getting rich,
but the people on the field
You have these luxury boxes where
the privileged and wealthy
are looking down at folks
on the field,
who, through their artistry and hard
work, are creating the wealth,
but they're sharing in none of it.
Going through this and seeing
these trophies,
you really forget about the journey
and all that you did to get
to that full scholarship.
This is when I was in eighth grade.
A lot of my high school,
I was in Muncie Central in Indiana.
Number 15, Kyle Allen.
There was 15 000 people in those
stands at a high school game.
My senior year,
Sacramento High School.
We were the first team In Sacramento
High School history to go to state.
To make it out of Sacramento playing
basketball was no small task.
It was like we were
the chosen few.
I was offered a full ride scholarship
to play at Hawaii Pacific.
This is my award letter.
400 dollars for books.
950 for room and board.
The total award was 25 485 dollars.
This is fine print.
This is a contract.
They're not just giving you money
because they like you so much.
Kyle Allen!
The very first practice you realize
it's no longer fun, it's a job.
5:24 right now.
Workout starts at 6:00.
Practice starts at 7:30.
The bus leaves at seven o'clock.
Practice ends at 10:30,
you have to get bused over
very quickly to make the class.
I just made It back from practice
and I don't typically have time to
actually sit down and get treatment.
So I just grab the bag of ice
and I'm game ready when I leave class.
From 10:50 until around two o'clock
you're in class.
- I don't want to be here right now.
- Is Willy in there?
No, he said he's not coming to class.
That guy's being studious,
look at him.
After class, you had either film,
or you would have
an evening practice or a game.
Essentially, seven o'clock
in the morning
to around seven o'clock at night
you are on company time.
I love Michigan sports. It used to ruin
my week if Michigan lost.
But, for Michigan,
Ohio State, Alabama,
even teams that are nationally
you might get three kids drafted.
That's still 30 other kids who
are graduating from that class.
And what I care about
is what happens to those kids.
Do they go on to be lawyers
and doctors and accountants?
They are being pushed through
the institution
with shallow and empty educations,
in order to make them available for
the next football or basketball game.
I see the commercials where they say
"most NCAA players won't make it
to the NBA".
"You should get your education."
There are over 360 000
NCAA student-athletes.
And just about all of us will be going
pro in something other than sports.
That sounds really good,
but at the individual schools,
that's not what's being preached.
I remember finals week,
we had games all week.
So it's like: "Yeah, do good on your
finals. You have a game at 7:00."
To their knowledge,
you're there to play football.
You're not on scholarship
for school.
And it sounds crazy when
a student-athlete says that,
but those are the things coaches
tell them every day.
And that's why graduation rates, as
much as the NCAA might want to brag,
when you start dis-aggregating
graduation rates,
Black men in revenue generating sports,
it's down to about 55%.
The misconception is that the only
school that that goes down on
is the Dukes, the Illinois,
the North Carolina,
the big time schools.
Whether you're playing division two
basketball or D1,
this is the life that you're living.
Coaches have extraordinary
control over the athletes' lives,
and they also have extraordinary
pressure to get the most
out of those athletes,
because they're getting paid
millions of dollars to succeed.
College coaches rank as the
highest paid public employees.
In fact, they do so in 41
out of 50 states.
College athletes are employees
in virtually every sense of the word,
other than by name.
By name, college athletes
are referred to as student-athletes,
which is a legal fiction, essentially,
that was created by Walter Byers,
the former Executive Director
of the NCAA,
and the NCAA's lawyers
back in the fifties,
to avoid
worker's compensation claims.
In April, 1950, while indulging
in spring football practice,
Earnest Nemeth suffered an injury
to his back.
At the time, he was receiving 50 dollars
per month from the University.
Nemeth maintains that he was
employed to play football
at the University, and that his injury
arose out of that employment.
One witness said: "If you worked hard
in football you got a meal ticket."
As the decision pointed out,
if he was off the football team,
the benefits would stop accruing.
And so, the Colorado Supreme Court
said, "this is an employee".
The NCAA, of course, having lawyers
of their own, read this and said,
"Aha, so here's what
we're going to do".
"Your scholarship, of course, may
be conditioned being a member"
"of good standing on the football team,
but we won't ever pay you"
"in a way that's directly connected
to being on the football team."
And thus, the NCAA came up
with the concept, or excuse,
depending on your point of view,
of "student-athlete".
And, that term has become a shield
for the NCAA
over the past 60 or more years,
to prevent athletes from seeking
benefits as employees.
It's a way to misclassify workers
as student-athletes,
as if they were not really just there
to play ball
so that somebody
is making money off them.
On one side of the line,
where you are an employee,
there are sets of obligations
by the employer in terms of benefits.
On the other side of the line,
there are no rules.
I try to avoid using the term
student-athlete as much as possible,
because of its historical fabrication
to avoid paying players,
workers' compensation claims,
and providing them with other benefits.
I think that this is patently
exploitative, I really do.
And especially on folks that gave up
their body
to make those people
millions of dollars.
Traumatic brain injury, blowing out
a knee, hurting a spine.
The injury rate in Division One
athletes across all sports
is 66% suffer a major injury,
50% go on to have chronic.
And now, 20 years later, they're
having to go in their pocket to pay
for all these medical expenses.
There's something wrong with that.
We have to acknowledge that athletes,
yes, receive a scholarship,
but that scholarship is very tenuous.
There's a variety of creative ways that
coaches use to try to get those athletes
to quit or transfer or otherwise
take back that scholarship
so they can allocate it to someone
else that's going to serve
the athletic interests of the coach
and the university.
Coaches are effectively making
employment decisions.
My second year, I started
every game and I played,
I averaged 27 minutes a game.
I was one of the leaders
of the team.
But we were losing a lot of games.
You would have team meetings, they
would legitimately ask our opinion.
I would question the coach.
"This isn't working, that isn't
working", things of that nature.
I was called into a room
with all the coaches.
At the time, I may have had a 2.4 GPA.
If you have a 2.0 GPA average,
that means you're eligible to play.
The semester was over
in about three weeks.
It was, "If you don't have a 3.2 GPA
by the end of semester,"
"you lose your tuition".
They knew I wasn't going
to have that.
At the end of my sophomore year,
my scholarship was plucked.
I didn't commit a crime,
I didn't break a team rule.
It was literally "we don't really
want you here anymore".
It actually wasn't until I left
the NCAA
that I looked at Walter Byers' memoir
called Unsportsmanlike Conduct,
in which he talked about how he felt
that college sports represented
what he called
the "plantation mentality".
The management of intercollegiate
athletics stayed at a place committed
to an outmoded code of amateurism.
I attribute that to, quite frankly,
the Neo-plantation mentality
that existed on the campuses
of our country
and in the conference offices.
And in the NCAA.
It was telling to me how the executive
that essentially designed the modern
came to this viewpoint
after his retirement.
We crafted the term "student-athlete"
and soon it was embedded
in all NCAA rules and interpretations
as a mandated substitute for such
words as players and athletes.
Wait, can I just take a break
and say something?
This is something that we see
in all companies that misclassify
their workers,
they specifically use language
that's different from traditional
language that you use
with regards to employees
to make it sound like they're
talking about something different.
Our proposal is essentially
what we call
an independent contractor plus model,
gig worker plus model.
Uber says that its drivers aren't
its employees
because they do something that's
outside of their typical business.
Misclassification is classifying someone
as something other than an employee
when, in fact, they are an employee.
This is a distinction that has to do
with how much an employer
has to actually pay an employee.
The minimum wage does not apply
to Amazon flex workers
who deliver packages using their own
cars, because they are contractors.
Well, you have misclassification
going on all over the place
and it's unfair to competitors
who are playing by the rules.
This has been a big part of what
I've been doing through my career.
Uber and Lyft and all of these
gig economy companies,
claim that all of those employment
laws that we've had on the books
for decades to protect workers,
just somehow don't apply to them.
We have fought against companies
in so many different industries,
that have made use of this scheme
to try to offload
all of their employment obligations.
Call center companies,
delivery companies, strip clubs.
There's a whole gamut of companies
that classify their janitors
as independent contractors.
There are valid use cases for being
an independent contractor.
If I am a particular kind of repairman,
or provide a particular kind of service
for a corporation that's only used
an hour a year,
there's no reason for corporations
to have that person on staff.
The problem is that, over the years,
companies that have sought
to exploit this situation, have pushed
the envelope further and further.
This is one of the central issues for
these online gig economy platforms.
They do not want their workers
to be considered employees.
The story of misclassification goes
back basically to the moment
when classification began to matter,
to the 1930s.
After many requests on my part,
the Congress passed
a Fair Labor Standards Act.
There were some glimmers of hope
in the law.
What we call the Wages and Hours Bill.
That act sets a floor below wages,
and a ceiling over the hours of labor.
Laws passed that gave basic
protections to workers.
The right to a minimum wage,
the right to be paid over time.
The right to organize.
You get certain kinds of contributions
made in your behalf
to social security, to unemployment.
And over the years, more and more
employment protections
were layered on top of those.
But it wasn't designed in a way
that said: "How do I cover everyone?"
I grew up in the rural South, in a small
town in Southwest Mississippi.
And my dad was born in 1938,
which was when the New Deal
was in full swing.
And he, and just about everybody
he knew,
they were all left out of the New Deal.
A lot of this seeps into legacies
of racism in our country,
when our Social Security laws
were exempting
domestics and agricultural workers,
because those were the professions
African-Americans were more likely
to be in.
And so, when employers began to
realize they could make more money
by tapping into these workforces
that could not defend themselves,
either through institutions or laws,
they could make more money,
well, that's what they did.
The first move is replacing full-time
workers with part-time workers.
And the next move is subcontracting
those part-time workers to temps.
And the next move is, getting rid
of the temp agency entirely
and just hiring ad hoc,
independent contractors.
And once I lost my scholarship,
it was like, well, you worked
your whole life for this moment.
And just, you walk in the room,
"no, got to go".
There was no graduation because
I couldn't, they took my scholarship.
I didn't have any job skills.
I had my first daughter, Zoe,
and we needed some baby food,
and we were trying to get
an apartment.
We were living with my parents
at that time.
I couldn't get a job anywhere.
So you do what you have to do,
which was get into the gig economy.
It was a hard pill to swallow,
my first ride,
because it was a realization for me,
that all the work I put in,
it came to this.
When it first was rolling out,
the gig economy was looked at as,
for younger people, like freedom.
Opportunity is everything.
They packaged it in a way
like you're an entrepreneur.
And so this is the appeal
of the gig economy,
that it's possible to be your own boss.
I absolutely looked at it
as I was starting my own business.
You have to wake up, crack of dawn,
five o'clock in the morning.
Hurry up, feed your kid, baby.
Every minute, every second, and every
hour is money you're not making.
It's almost like a video game.
It tells you:
"Oh, it's hot in this area."
We have a ride. Accept that.
A mile and a half away.
It tells you where to go.
Grubhub order for Audrey.
Let's go deliver this Grubhub.
You guys know that I don't always
work 12 hours a day,
but I'm going to be working 12 hours
a day, because I want to hit this quest.
These apps keep data on how many
assignments do they accept,
how prompt are they accepting them,
how do customers rate them.
And from all of this data that's
being collected, determines
whether they get to keep working
or what kind of assignments they get.
They control you, but you're free.
So, yeah, you're creating your own
hours, but you have no life.
What's misleading is that you can
actually have a benefit of flexibility
in an exploitative situation.
If you have no control,
and you're working at the direction
of the company,
you actually don't have flexibility.
We are pushed to drive
70 to 80 hours.
I don't see where the flexibility is
when you drive,
or have to work 80 hours a week.
These folks who are doing these
gig jobs are getting hurt,
especially those that are doing
them full-time.
If you're working all day driving,
you are clearly not a gig worker.
There was no base pay.
The money I made driving
and the money I spent,
it probably was relatively the same.
I had clients who drove 70 hours
or more per week,
and they were just barely getting by.
Six hours we're at 71 dollars,
not that great.
At the end of the day, I did the math
and I was losing money.
I made more money staying home.
There should be a minimum wage.
I think it's criminal that the worker
can't make 5 dollars base.
I gained a lot of weight driving Lyft
because you're in the car all day.
If you're trying to maximize time,
you're going to do whatever it takes.
Fast food, fast food, energy drink,
energy drink, energy drink.
I went through depression, anxiety.
There's no time to pull over and get
sleep, you're trying to make money.
You're holding up this billion dollar
but you don't get any of the perks
of that.
Without these drivers,
you have no business.
Without these players,
you have no business.
Companies will get away
with this if they can,
because they save massively
when they don't have to worry
about employment protections
for their workers.
An ex-Uber executive estimated that
Uber would have to pay 20% more
if they were to convert all of their
independent contractors to employees.
Misclassification games matter a lot
because if Company A follows
the rules and pays their employees,
and pays all their taxes
and pays all their benefits,
and they have to compete
with Company B that doesn't,
Company B can offer their product
at a lower price
and eventually drive Company A
out of business.
This is something that's happened
again and again, and again and again.
Right now, there's a lot of attention
on companies like Uber,
Lyft and Door Dash
and gig economy companies.
But the real danger is that it's just
the tip of the iceberg.
Only 1% of American workers make
money through these digital platforms,
but about 10% make their living
through independent contracting,
on a platform or not.
And about 40% of workers now
supplement their income
through independent contracting
or other kinds of contingent work.
A lot of my peers are in the gig economy
because we were all in the same boat.
You know, if you didn't make it
overseas or in the pros,
you're in my same boat,
we're all in the same boat.
You get out the last game of the year,
you have your team banquet,
and from that moment,
you're on your own.
Gig economy and student-athlete
were both created
to slight the worker.
You get a full ride scholarship,
or you get to pick your hours.
It's an illusion of freedom,
but in reality,
you are still on a plantation.
So, we have this entire portion of the
workforce that is being stripped
of all of their rights
under our basic employment laws.
I think, it's further embedding
a segregation in our workforce
as to who has protections
and who doesn't.
In men's basketball,
and in football,
a majority of the participants
at the highest levels are Black men.
But they only represent 2.4%
of the undergraduate population.
For all of these organizations, this
is their central way to build wealth.
And the people who are actually doing
the work that these companies do
are struggling,
They're fighting for basic protections,
for safety, for a minimum wage.
I don't think that a driver
or a student-athlete is asking
to become a millionaire.
But, if we're building your company,
and you're now
a publicly traded company,
and you just made hundreds
of millions of dollars overnight,
but the driver hasn't seen their kids
all weekend,
I think that you can see
that there's an issue there.
We are the company.
We are in a moment in history
right now where the NCAA is facing
a threat to their financial well-being.
And it could upend the way that
the monopoly that they have works.
Tonight, a big win for college athletes.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme
Court rule the NCAA' strict limits
on benefits to student-athletes
violates federal law.
To pay no salaries to the workers
who are making the schools
billions of dollars, on the theory
that consumers want the schools
to pay their workers nothing,
that just seems entirely circular
and even somewhat disturbing.
What I'm seeing is the NCAA
being forced
to make small incremental changes.
College athletes have a new way
to make money.
They can't get paid to play,
but they can sign deals to earn
an income from their personal brand.
These are important economic rights
for the athletes,
and they should have been afforded
to them years ago.
However, there are many more
remaining issues
in the college sports industry
that have to be addressed.
We need to empower
those college athletes,
give them a set of basic rights and
privileges that they've earned.
Nobody in America should tolerate it,
especially us as fans.
To be silent as we witness this
is unacceptable.
People love to focus on whether
the athletes should be paid,
but these issues in college sports
extend far beyond
just whether they should receive
a fair wage.
And they include basic protections,
and things like health and safety,
meaningful education,
and graduation attainment.
Remember, the problem
we started with
was precisely that the money that's
being generated puts pressure on them
to not be real students.
It seems to me,
a really shallow solution
that what we should do is throw
a few more bucks their way,
skim a little off the top,
and make ourselves feel better.
It still means that you're going
to graduate
some huge swath of young Black men
without the education you promised.
I should have graduated in 2012.
I didn't graduate until 2018.
So, I had to start from ground zero.
I wanted to get into education.
This school, called Success Academy,
had a job opening
for an instructional aid.
It was a relief,
a great sense of relief,
from a gig job to a job
that gave me health benefits
and a say in a union.
I got an opportunity to coach Junior
Varsity basketball at the time.
I understand that they're going to have
a dream of playing in college,
getting a full ride scholarship.
And I don't want to detour
anyone's dream,
but I wish someone
would have told me the truth.
What do you think it means
to be American?
Don't you think it should come with
certain worker protections,
certain basic economic rights?
Economic, not just security,
but a sense of purpose.
I can climb this ladder
of the American dream.
This has been a presentation
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