Pity the Overworked Athlete
This author loves sports, and the bias may show. Professional sports were historically looked down upon. The British institutionalised them, classifying the amateur cricketer, usually a rich man’s son, as a ‘Gentleman’, and the working-class chap, earning a few pennies, as a ‘Player’. Talk of caste systems!
 
Next came the Olympics. Professionals were pariahs, paid trainers disallowed, the best athletes banned. Iron Curtain dope-filled ‘sportsmen’ were taking home the ‘gold’. India had sports-persons who did not know where their working desks were. They got salaries, promotions, special rations, equipment—the best and for free—special leave, the works. They were still called amateurs! There were no legal remedies.
 
Times change. Distinctions and barriers were erased. Reports flaunted the money earned. Legal suits followed. Professionalism in every sport, from cricket to kabaddi, brought legal heads to TV channels and promoters.
 
Welcome to the wide, wonderful, world of sports litigation.
 
America has major league baseball and minor league softball games. There is money; top guns make big bucks, marry film stars. The minor leaguers struggled to go ‘up the ladder’ with long hours, hard work. As with wage-earners of the ‘jitna daam, utna kaam’ persuasion, they felt that they were overworked and underpaid. They trooped to court.
 
Their grouse was that their employers had run afoul of the California Fair Labour Standards Act. This law presupposes two things. One, only those below a certain salary can claim overtime and only for certain nature of the work. ‘Cerebral’ activity is excluded, as opposed to ‘manual’. It does not recognise artists, music composers and inventors, who work with originality, talent or creative features. That left the labourer, the clerk, the slogger, the run-of-the-mill worker, within the pale.
 
The ball-players insisted on overtime pay. The issue was critical. Come December, the cut-off salary was due to almost double, bringing in many other claimants, including the better-paid minor stars. The bosses countered, “Nothing doing, the players are not labourers.”
 
You be the judge. On which side would you lean and why?
 
Which category did the baseball-players fit into? Was their work manual or creative? Would a ‘touch artist’, like Ramanathan Krishnan, be excluded, while a slogger, like McEnroe, be eligible? Which player would be better qualified for relief, a smart pitcher or a solid batter? Finally, had the honourable judge ever played baseball to sufficiently understand the nuances?
 
Then there was that can of worms. Other support staff would follow the players. The ball-boys (and girls) in tennis, the mechanics in motor sports, the horse-handlers, the pitch curators, the rain-cover guys, the markers in snooker and billiards, maybe even the twelfth man who runs up with the drinks.
 
The judge rejected the plaint. He based his decision on the argument that there was no basis of a commonality of the collective-action claim. The leaguers could not approach the court as class-action plaintiffs. While this would mean that individual athletes could ask for damages, each case would have to be filed, argued and determined separately. What you cannot get collectively, you may get individually. More suits, more time spent, more fees collected. Wonders never cease.
 
The matter was now pregnant with problems. To stymie a slew of court cases, the legislature is working extra hours to introduce special legislation for the Minor League. Whether it will work for other sports is to be seen; but, in the meantime, who will look after the interests of the lawmakers? Having burnt midnight oil, are they not also eligible for overtime pay?
 
It all depends on whether they admit that their work is non-cerebral. Most voters may agree.
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