Todd Gurley of the Georgia Bulldogs.
Today, University of Georgia star running back Todd Gurley, like Rapier in the 1880s, couldn’t sell what his hands created: his signature. Gurley is currently suspended for reportedly affixing his John Hancock on eighty pieces of sports memorabilia. In 2010, six Ohio State players including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor were suspended for selling game-worn uniforms, championships rings, and awards. Gurley and Pryor violated NCAA rules prohibiting college athletes from selling memorabilia and profiting off their likeness. Those rules, as did the sunset laws, helped create a monopoly. Both schemes, that is, removed competitors from the marketplace. Indeed, Gurley and Pryor, like Rapier and Alabama blacks, were restrained from selling goods or services on the open market, reducing their economic rewards while boosting that of their plunderers.
“We are bothered by people from other states persuading away our laborers,” a North Carolina man told his legislature in the late 1800s, “which [ought] to be a criminal offense.” Southern legislatures agreed and enacted emigrant agent laws which required an agent in the business of recruiting laborers for out-of-state work to purchase an exorbitantly expensive license. Emigrant agents were crucial in helping blacks learn of better, but far away, economic opportunities. These laws drove the business of Southern labor agents into the shadows. Planters, though, hired agents of their own to help sell their agricultural products. Their real issue wasn’t agents, but rather agents who helped black laborers resist the cartel.
“I hate to say this, but how are [agents] any better than a pimp?” Alabama football coach Nick Saban asked during a 2010 press conference in which he railed against agents having improper contact with college athletes. By prohibiting college athletes from having both meaningful interaction with agents and off-campus economic opportunities, the NCAA devised exploitative rules not unlike the South’s emigrant agent laws. Athletes still have contact with agents, but like in the Jim Crow South, it happens in secrecy. Saban, of course, like the planters, employs an agent who benefits him—one who put nearly $7 million a year into Saban’s bank account.
Anti-enticement statutes made hiring already employed laborers illegal. Such statutes inhibited competition among employers for employed laborers, weakening the latter’s leverage to negotiate for better compensation and working conditions. John Townsend Trowbridge, a northern journalist who toured the South after the Civil War, learned how intolerant Southerners were of black laborers leaving for better opportunities. “I used to think the nigger was the meanest of God’s creatures,” one South Carolina man told him. “But I’ve found a meaner brute than he; and that’s the low-down white man. If a respectable man hires a nigger for wages, one of those low-down cusses will offer him twice as much, to get him away.”