The idea might make you wince. But the status quo should make you wince even more:
Here is the central paradox of American college sports: It’s a multibillion-dollar entertainment spectacle, but the people who make it all possible—the athletes—don’t get any of the profits.
To resolve the contradiction, the NCAA has for decades relied upon the notion of the student-athlete. The idea is that college athletes aren’t professionals, but rather young people playing a sport as one of the myriad activities available on a college campus designed to cultivate all-around personal growth; “the Athenian concept of a complete education derived from fostering the full growth of both mind and body,” according to a federal judge quoted in Taylor Branch’s must-read investigation “The Shame of College Sports.” For their time and effort, student-athletes are compensated not in cash, but in scholarships that make their education possible.
But critics argue that, in practice, there is hardly a healthy balance between “student” and “athlete.”
“Ask a player what would happen if they didn’t show up to a workout or game, even if they were attending class,” said Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, a non-profit that advocates for college players. “They would lose their scholarship.”
The rest at Campus Progress.
Or at least to cut him some slack.
I’m one of those people who see the Miami Heat as basketball’s Evil Empire, or like the bad guys in an underdog-story kid’s sports movie. I still haven’t forgiven LeBron for “The Decision” (or for beating the Pistons in the 2007 playoffs). Having him, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh—three of the league’s elite players—on the same team just feels like stacking the deck. It’s as though a team that talented is supposed to win. What fun is that?
But Mychal Denzel Smith has me reconsidering. I spoke to him yesterday for a story I’m writing on money in college sports, and as an aside he said:
In 2010, when LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh all decided that they were going to play in Miami together, what you saw was a shift with black men taking control of their destiny in professional sports and no longer being necessarily what William Rhoden called the “40 million dollar slave,” right? They were understanding their value, and understanding the market, and understanding what it is that they bring to the table. And capitalizing off of their talent and their business savvy in order to do what it is that they wanted to do in order to make themselves more profitable and their brands more profitable.
Maybe as sports fans, we’re not accustomed to athletes being strong self-advocates and asserting control over their careers. And it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that race influences our expectations. I’ll almost always still root for the underdog (in this case, against the Heat) but I’ll definitely try to spare the scorn.