A manager from SB Nation, a network of sports blogs that continues to profit off the labor of unpaid and underpaid workers, recently told two writers who are still in high school that they could not be paid for their work because they are under the age of 18.
According to a 16-year-old who has written regularly for a mid-tier NBA site in the SB Nation network for more than a year and appears on the site’s masthead, NBA league manager Seth Pollack told him that legally he could not be paid.
“I checked with our legal folks and we’re not going to be able to get you paid. You have to be 18 to legally sign a contract,” Pollack wrote in a message reviewed by Deadspin. “Sorry about that.”
A different worker for the same site, who is 17 and also appears on the masthead, said the same thing happened to him.
“I was [contacted] by Seth Pollack, the NBA site manager, saying that the reason why I’ve never gotten paid is because I’m not 18,” the high school senior told Deadspin.
The two writers say no one from SB Nation asked how old they were when they joined. According to Deadspin’s previous reporting, contributing 1 to 1.5 posts a week can earn SB Nation writers between $25 and $40 a month, which, while far below industry standard, is at least compensation. Both high schoolers say they write at least one post a week. The 17-year-old joined in April, and the 16-year-old, who joined SB Nation when he was 15, has been contributing since early 2017.
“I was led to believe that I would get paid, eventually,” the 16-year-old told Deadspin. “Now, in November 2018, when a new site manager was appointed, it was brought to my attention it was possible for me to get paid... I got a message from Seth Pollack, SB Nation NBA’s editorial manager. He told me, because of my age, his ‘legal people’ told him I was ineligible for financial compensation for writing.”
An SB Nation spokesperson told Deadspin that contributors under the age of 18 can sign contracts and, presumably, get paid, as long as a guardian signs the contract as well.
The contract of any contributor under the age of 18 is also signed by a guardian and, like contracts for all SB Nation contributors, includes a clear outline of the relationship and payment they can expect for their contributions. We currently have 3 contracted contributors who are under 18.
When I asked SB Nation what they had to say about a manager telling teenagers that they couldn’t legally be paid, the spokesperson sent the following response:
Hi - We can’t speculate about what people do or do not say. Thanks.
It’s possible Pollack just offered up an easy-sounding excuse to two contributors in order to avoid paying them because the team sites—which account for the majority of SB Nation’s traffic, which accounts for the largest chunk of Vox Media’s traffic—are chronically underfunded, but it seems more likely that he received bad information from someone at the company and ended up passing a bogus excuse along to the two writers. Whatever the case, the takeaway here is that SB Nation’s model remains fucked to its core, and mishaps like this are the unavoidable result of asking people like Pollack to recruit and manage writers within a complex and confusing structure that is designed to keep labor costs as low as possible.
John Ness, SB Nation’s director of team brands and the guy who is supposed to be fixing the company’s team site mess, did not answer multiple requests for comment. Pollack declined to comment. Jim Bankoff, the guy who owns the whole rotten enterprise, has yet to comment publicly on the fact that his company’s biggest traffic driver is propped up by exploited labor.
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