It’s always about slavery or some other form of hatred or bigotry. Just throw up those types of incendiary words and accusations and you’re guaranteed to get a mob of slack jawed mouth breathers to hop on your bandwagon. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen all too often, it’s a strategy that works.
Wendell Carter Jr. is or was a top basketball star for Duke University. His mom was testifying in front of a commission put in place to review NCAA sports and recommendations made by the Condoleeza Rice commission. That commission was put together to review the recent revelations about cheating in NCAA basketball and paying off coaches or players to draw them to certain universities. Kylia Carter said the system is the same as slavery; that the labor is black and the profit is white. Why does everything have to be about race? Yes, there are some rules that seem arcane and yes some, SOME, universities are making a lot of money off of athletics. But only if they have a good football or basketball team. The other sports do not generate, directly generate, significant revenue from outside the university.
But let’s look at the premise that has been picked up by the likes of Max Kellerman and Dan Le Batard. Slavery was not solely a white issue. As we’ve pointed out, slaves were held by black Americans and there were lots of free black people in America. Blacks in Africa also captured and sold other blacks to slave traders who shipped them around the world; not just to America. It is not a white issue; it’s a human issue.
Are college players compensated for their services? Absolutely. They get a scholarship that is worth, on average, $60,000 a year. If they choose to put it to good use, they graduate from college with an education and the skills that will enable them to go out into the world and earn a living; without the student loan debt that saddles so many other students/graduates these days. That’s pretty valuable in and of itself. But many of these student athletes also get access to training tables, e.g. cafeterias with special food offerings for athletes; access to personal trainers; access to tutors; and special dorms that are much nicer than anything other students have available to them. They also get to travel to great places. Michigan’s football team is in Italy this spring; Duke travels across Europe playing basketball and seeing the sights. Doesn’t cost the student athlete a thing.
Are student athletes fairly compensated? Yes. Do some universities, like Duke or Alabama, make a ton of money off of their basketball and football teams? Yes. Do they make a profit? Yes. That profit helps support other sports at the institution that might not otherwise be able to make it; those student/athletes get an education they might not otherwise have access to.
Do student/athletes have a choice? Yes they do. They can leave a university if they don’t like it. In most cases if they want to go to another university or college, they have to sit out a year. It’s kind of like a no compete clause that many employees with particular skill sets have in the private sector. That’s not slavery, that’s a choice the school makes to protect its investment much like a private company. I don’t think slaves had much of a choice, other than to run and risk being beaten if they didn’t make it.
Scholarships for athletes pre-dated the big T.V. contracts that have made Division I football and basketball such big business. Having a successful athletic team was a way to attract donors, whether from alumni or boosters. It wasn’t the big business that it is today, but universities were using student/athletes skills to ‘make’ money then as well.
By comparing NCAA rules to slavery, and giving legitimacy to the argument, people like Kellerman and Le Batard are denigrating the history of slavery. They are also taking away from the real issues that need to be solved, such as real bigotry or discrimination. Or even a legitimate discussion of how to change the NCAA system, if it needs to be changed at all.
If the NCAA system was really that bad, someone would come up with an alternative. Maybe the NAIA? They could create another division in their system that would allow for direct pay of athletes in some way shape or form. Maybe the NBA’s ‘G’ League would pay those young men more to play basketball in their system, drawing more fans and getting rid of the farce of staying in college for one year before a player is eligible for the draft.
Competition will drive change, but there has to be a legitimate problem that needs solving. I’m not sure there is a real, serious problem.