808s & Fast Breaks: Gordon and Uzi Vert are victims

As I prepare to draft the team that will defend my 2018 Fantasy Football championship and place the Mayfield name next to the likes of Belichick and Lombardi, Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon has my attention as a potential late-round steal.

Normally, a player of Gordon’s caliber would be taken many rounds earlier than I plan on drafting him, but his current financial situation has him in a position where he feels forced to hold out from reporting to his team. The concept of a young talent refusing to display his ability over financial disagreements is nothing new. In fact, rapper Lil Uzi Vert is going through similar circumstances in a completely different industry.

The correlation between a 6-foot-1, 215-pound NFL running back who makes a living sacrificing his body and a 5-foot-3, 150-pound rapper that gets paid to shoulder roll with sass may not seem obvious, and understandably so. That is the main purpose of this column — to point out the parallels that exist within music and sports. In his hit track “Thank Me Now,” Drake raps, “I swear sports and music are so synonymous, because we want to be them, and they want to be us.” This column is dedicated to highlighting those synonymous structures.

Since entering their respective fields, both Gordon and Uzi Vert have been the cream of the crop in comparison to their peers. Gordon has finished top 10 in the league in total touchdowns in three of his four years in the NFL. At 135,000 first-week sales, Lil Uzi Vert’s official debut album, Luv Is Rage 2, is the best-selling album of any rapper featured as an XXL Freshman, an annual list dedicated to spotlighting the year’s most popular rising rap stars, since 2013 and has been proclaimed by The New York Times as the leader of the SoundCloud wave.

Along with achieving clear quantitative success, Gordon and Uzi Vert have become major cultural figures early in their careers. 

Thanks to his confident demeanor and childlike purity, Uzi Vert is one of the most recognizable personalities in all of rap, and Gordon has garnered more than his fair share of fans from carving through defenses on Sundays.

However, impressive stats and the allure of fan attraction has yet to equate to the type of money the young stars feel they deserve. 

Uzi Vert has been extremely vocal about his displeasure with his deal under DJ Drama and Don Cannon’s Generation Now label, going as far as blaming them for the yearlong delay of his sophomore album, Eternal Atake. He announced his retirement from music altogether in early 2019. 

Meanwhile, Gordon is facing similar displeasure with his Chargers contract, as he pursues a deal that would place him among the top-paid backs in the league — a number currently north of $13 million per season. As part of his pursuit, the 26-year-old running back has been a training camp and preseason holdout with no definitive signs of return.

Neither Gordon nor Uzi Vert seems close to the deal they want. 

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco announced that extension talks will be shut down until the end of the season, via Daniel Popper. In a similar manner of calling the “little guy”’s bluff, DJ Drama responded to Uzi’s claim that the label was holding Eternal Atake by posting that Uzi has his blessing to drop the album whenever he pleases.

Gordon and Uzi Vert have proven to be at or near the top of their respective professions and want nothing more than to be paid like it. The concept of a person outperforming their previously signed contract and earning a raise in response seems straightforward, but what should be a straight line to the bank shifts into a steep hill for those in the exploitative industries of football and rap. 

As I sip from a 99-cent gallon of water for dinner for the second night in a row, I recognize that trying to paint a picture of a millionaire athlete and a millionaire artist being financially exploited is unlikely to spark much sympathy. Still, the fact that two elite talents will likely be forced to perform under a contract signed without leverage deserves at least an acknowledgement of their relatively unfair treatment. 

The sad truth is that both Gordon and Uzi Vert are expendable in the eyes of their bosses. The Chargers have enough talent on their roster surrounding veteran quarterback Philip Rivers to ease Gordon’s absence. While Uzi Vert, much like Gordon, is a top-tier talent, a new rapper pops up for every realization that school is hard, making the idea of DJ Drama betting on the field seem more logical than breaking the bank for one artist. 

Gordon and Uzi Vert not earning what their resumes are worth is the unfortunate reality of two industries that operate using the same cycle: build up, underpay, tear down, repeat. 

Taj Mayfield is a sophomore writing about the connections between music and sports. His column, “808s & Fast Breaks,” runs every other Friday.