In a system labor experts are calling "outrageous," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are among several professional sports teams a Tampa Bay Times investigation found employ unpaid, destitute people to sell peanuts and beer to fans at the stadium.
Reporter Will Hobson's investigation found the Bucs, Rays, Lightning, and Daytona 500 all employed labor from the New Beginnings ministry in a system the New Beginnings CEO calls "work therapy" but labor investigators call "indentured servitude." The money earned working the concession stands, the Times reports, goes directly to New Beginnings, which provides the men with shelter and food; in total, New Beginnings brought in $932,816 in income last year.
Most of the men are homeless, destitute, and drug or alcohol addicts. Workers told the Times that New Beginnings confiscated their Social Security checks and food stamps and that while the organization claims to provide counseling, it employs no one with training to treat drug addicts or the mentally ill. One of the organization's chief ministers cited as qualification that "he ran a motorcycle gang."
James Kelly, an admitted pain-pill addict, stayed at New Beginnings for a few weeks in 2012. He said he left after not getting paid for the hours he worked at Rays games.
"You have to work for them, and they drug test you," said Kelly, 34. "I guess that's what they call counseling."
The Tampa Bay Lightning honored New Beginnings CEO Thomas Atchison last year as "a community hero." Tropicana Field concessions operator Center Plate says it's unaware homeless people were working its stands, and that charities are forbidden from sending volunteers "dependent upon the charity for food, clothing, shelter ... or any other necessities of life."
Photo credit: David J. Phillip/AP