It’s just human nature that extreme measures have to be taken just to make people in power do the right thing. We’ve seen it with civil rights, affirmative action and now, maybe, with college sports. When I first heard the news about college football players at Northwestern University wanting to unionize, I initially thought they were going to actually get paid and I was glad. It turns out they’re fighting for health insurance, which I thought they were getting already.
I’m hoping this union thing will turn into something more.
The fight for college athletes to unionize wouldn’t be so hard if the NCAA would even try to be fair. But they won’t. The powers that be really see nothing wrong with colleges and universities making billions off young athletes in the prime of their careers. I understand why the thought of paying student/athletes was once taboo, but times have changed. A lot of these college and university leaders who profit from these hardworking young men and women are playing dumb.
Last Sunday, the NCAA board met and declared once again that payment has no place in intercollegiate sports. Former Secretary of Health and Human Services and current University of Miami president Donna Shalala spoke on behalf of the universities, claiming that most schools do not make money off of their athletic programs. That only a few make millions. She says the ones that do, pay for the programs that don’t bring in the big money. Yeah, okay.
They would have us believe that compensating athletes will ruin the system. They say students are being rewarded with access to a quality education, room and board and that’s more than enough. But my take is: if the college athletes are smart, lucky or both, they’ll get a good education out of the deal and hopefully, one day, a paycheck. The powers that be say if they pay football and basketball players, they’ll also have to pay players that don’t generate as much money, like women’s badminton teams, for example.
But what about graduation rates? They are often below average for the elite student/athletes. Some schools and coaches already go the extra mile to make sure students graduate. There are always instances where a school will do the right thing, just because it’s the right thing to do. Just like there were some white people who treated Black folks fairly before the Civil Rights Act was signed. There were some businesses that would hire qualified minorities and women before affirmative action. But you couldn’t count on it happening across the board without a law being passed.
It’s the same with the NCAA. They need to have their feet held to the fire in order to make a change. And they’re going to go kicking and screaming because they’re profiting big time from the system already in place.
But the student athletes who compete under the current system have their own stories to tell.
Baker Mayfield, a walk-on freshman at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, became the star of the team when he replaced the injured starting quarterback. He won five of the seven games he started in. After the original starter returned, Texas Tech refused Mayfield a scholarship and wouldn’t release him to play at another Big 12 school. They were afraid that he would someday be competing against Texas Tech.
If I got injured playing the hits and wanted to go to a competing radio station, I would have to sit out for a period of time, but then I’d be able to go where I wanted. Mayfield doesn’t have that luxury. The NCAA has sanctioned the university’s decision to keep him from playing at a competing school, indefinitely.
Here’s a different kind of story:
Robert Terrell (not his real name) received a four-year athletic scholarship at a Big Ten Conference Division I school. After a helmet-to-helmet collision on the field, Robert was shaken up so badly he decided a career in football wasn’t for him. An academic star as well, he wanted to pursue his major at the university that had welcomed him with open arms and assured his parents they wanted only the best for him. When he dropped football, his scholarship money ended, even though his parents wondered if his head injury was impacting his decision-making.
When asked if she thought players should get paid, Robert’s mom says she felt a four-year free ride, plus the $1,000 a month stipend her son got was fair. But she also thinks that there are other ways the schools can aid student athletes and families, like making funds available for family visits when student/athletes attend school out of state.
I’ve been trying to wrap this blog up for days but every time something new unfolds. Monday night’s NCAA tournament ended with University of Connecticut’s victory over Kentucky. UConn’s star guard Shabazz Napier told reporters recently that he goes to bed hungry some nights in spite of the millions of dollars being made off of him.
Now that we’ve got the face of a champion who is living what most of us are writing and talking about, we might just have a movement!
Years ago I heard a sports analyst lay out a great idea regarding a payment plan for players. He said money could be put in a trust that will only be available after athletes finish school. If the student/athlete gets hurt? Then they get the money that’s accumulated, but not until graduation. Students that don’t graduate get nothing and the money goes back to the school.
I’m just a DJ, so it isn’t my job to figure out how they can come up with an equitable way of compensating student athletes. I only know that it’s got to be done.
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