The next several paragraphs will be a collection of some of my thoughts about the concept of student-athletes, the NCAA, and the recent claim by Final Four MVP Shabazz Napier that, despite the fact that he’s a prominent member of a multi-billion dollar industry (!!!), he often goes to bed starving because he can’t afford to buy food.
But first, can we recognize how awesome of a name Shabazz Napier is? Seriously, I don’t mean to be a namist here, but some people have shitty names. Its not their fault, obviously. But, some were unfortunate enough to be born with a first and/or last name that immediately typecasts them as an “accountant for an accounting’s firm accountants” or “that guy in charge of putting the frosting on Cinnabuns.” Shabazz f*cking Napier though? That name would work for a president, a kick-ass principal, an astronaut, an African warlord, a p*rn star, a franchise of haberdasheries, a Wu-Tang member’s alias, a Wu-Tang member’s real name, and (obviously) a point guard of an NCAA championship team. I officially have Shabazz Napier name envy.
Anyway, the idea that Shabazz Napier — the star of the national championship (I keep repeating this because it needs to be repeated) — is going to bed hungry every night makes for a very compelling piece of evidence in the ongoing fight against the NCAA and the current definition of “student-athlete.” Here’s a kid who just helped to earn his school tens of millions of dollars, but he can’t even afford to buy a sandwich or a Snicker because of the flagrantly — and possibly illegally — hypocritical rules of the NCAA.
But…that idea is full of shit.
Now, Shabazz Napier is a star point guard who’ll probably be selected in the second round of this summer’s NBA draft. I was an oft-injured career backup whose basketball career ended when my senior year did. But, we both were full scholarship Division 1 athletes who likely received many of the same benefits. And because we share that trait — and because of how similar the meal plan situations are for most scholarship basketball players — I can call bullshit here with confidence.
It is likely that Napier and his teammates missed dinner several times because the campus cafeterias were closed by the time they got out of practice. But, taking that at face value neglects to mention some things, namely…
1. Along with meal plans, most scholarship athletes get at least a couple hundred dollars every semester for flex-type funds that can be used in the cafeteria and in several campus-area eateries. Often, these places stay open until 10 or 11, which gives athletes with late practices more than enough time to get food.
But, if Napier and his teammates are anything like my teammates and I were — and I’m assuming they are — most of them probably went through those funds in the first month of the semester. Making late night runs for cheese fries, letting a girlfriend or two “borrow” their cards, using flex funds as collateral in Spades games, etc. Granted, this failure to budget is understandable. These are 18, 19, and 20 year old men we’re talking about. But, when that happens, you do put yourself in a position where you can run out of that extra meal money with a month left in the semester.
2. Scholarship athletes are also eligible to receive Pell grants. How much you receive is largely determined by your parents’ income. Some kids don’t get anything. And some kids from low-income families can get the full amount. When I was in school, that was $1,800 a semester.
But, if Napier and his teammates are anything like my teammates and I were — and I’m assuming they are — a lot of that money goes towards sneakers and tattoos and parties and more sneakers and more tattoos. One of my teammates bought a car with his money. And the next semester he bought stereo equipment for his car.
Admittedly, it is very possible that Napier may have some extenuating circumstance causing him to be especially broke. Maybe he gets the Pell grant, but maybe his family is so poor that he sends all that money home. Maybe Kevin Ollie (the UConn coach) is a dick who schedules practices without any concern of the cafeteria times. (This isn’t likely. But it is possible.) And maybe Napier happens to be on one of the few campuses where everything shuts down at 7. (Again, this isn’t likely. But it is possible)
But, I just find it hard to believe that a person of Napier’s stature has to deal with hunger pains every night.
Still, even if this actual claim doesn’t pass the sniff test, the fact that a person who played a tremendous role in making millions of dollars for his school, his coaches, his administrators, and even the other athletic departments at his school, has to rely on flex funds and grants to help him get by is f*cked up. It’s f*cked up that he can see his jersey for sale in the campus bookstore, but can’t afford to buy it. It’s f*cked up that everyone around him is allowed to profit off of his name today except for him.
Seriously, think about this: I can start a Teespring campaign tomorrow selling “Shabazz Napier for President” t-shirts, and I could make hundreds, even thousand of dollars from it. If Shabazz Napier did that and only sold one shirt, he could lose his scholarship and his eligibility. And he’d have to deal with dozens of national columnists and pundits questioning his character.
The NCAA is a clusterf*ck. I do not see how any rationally thinking person can continue to deny this. It’s clear as day that things need to change, and this clarity makes me wonder why some people are so vehemently against even entertaining the idea of change. (Read some of the comments in the Napier article I linked to for an example of this anger. Don’t read if easily angered.)
Actually, I don’t wonder why at all. But, it’s a bit too late to unpack my thoughts about the dynamics of the relationship between the (mostly) Black athletes and the (mostly) White consumers and fans, so I’ll save them for another day.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)