By Black, Simon
Canadian Dimension , Vol. 40, No. 5
In the age of sports superstars with multi-million-dollar salaries, we tend not to think of professional athletes as workers. But, like other workers, professional athletes sell their labour to capitalists in return for a wage. With fame and fortune, they may be the most peculiar proletariat capitalism has ever produced, but it is important to remember that, throughout sporting history, athletes, like other workers, have had to form trade unions to fight for decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. And, like national economies, sports leagues vary in terms of their capital-labour relations. In some leagues athletes are still without the protection of a union and are thus subject to serious exploitation. In other leagues, players have a strong voice in the direction of their league and the future of their livelihoods.
If leagues fall across the political spectrum, the Canadian Football League (CFL) can be seen as the social democracy of the sports world--a regulated market economy in which workers have a say and in which the state (which in the sporting world is the league administration or governing body) mediates between the demands of workers and capitalists, while looking out for the health of the system (or league) as a whole. Compared, for instance, to the world's top soccer league, the ruthlessly capitalist English Premiership (EPL), the CFL is the Sweden of the sports world.
Take the issue of wage inequality. With centralized wage negotiations and other forms of market regulation, Sweden has managed to curb the gross wage inequality characteristic of free-market economies. The CFL'S salary cap, set by the league in negotiations with the players' union and franchise owners, ensures that no team's wage bill tops $3.8 million in the 2006 season. The result is both less wage inequality within a team and amongst players across the league. …