Why People Just Don’t Give A Fuck About College Athletes Being Exploited » VSB

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Why People Just Don’t Give A Fuck About College Athletes Being Exploited



Last week, a friend joked that the first Thursday and Friday of the NCAA tournament should be national holidays. No one gets any work done anyway, he said, so why not just give everyone those two days off? This was not the first and will not be the last time I’ll hear someone make a similar joke. March Madness will have such a grip on our country in the next couple of weeks that, while it’ll never, ever, ever happen, it’s not completely illogical to give everyone a few days off of work. The joke is also accidentally apropos. What better, more American way to honor this annual celebration of athletes working for free than to not work and still get paid?

Ah yes. You knew it was coming. Just as the NCAA tournament receives our national focus, this is also the time of the year where the discussion about student-athletes getting paid reaches a critical mass. It often goes the same way. A smart take on the NCAA will publish on The Atlantic or Grantland or Deadspin. The ridiculous amount of money made from the NCAA tournament (not sure of the exact amount, but I think it’s roughly $17 trillion an hour) will get cited, as well as all the people making millions (the schools, the coaches, the school administrations, etc) off of the labor of the athletes who see none of that cash. Sure, the piece will also note, athletes get a free college education. But then it’ll also include the fact that saying “Hey, we gave you something that’s worth $40,000 for free!” while cashing a $17 trillion dollar check is like, I don’t know, someone saying “A tsunami is about to hit our island. Can you help?” and someone else saying “Well, here’s an umbrella.” Also, the piece will cite the numerous academic scandals at high profile universities as more proof that many of these trillion dollar check cashing schools have no interest in making sure their athletes actually receive an education. It might even mention that “four year scholarships” are actually one year renewable. Meaning that an athlete’s scholarship can get revoked after one year for any reason. And, if it mentions that, it might cite example of athletes dropped from their scholarships because of injury or because the coach just needed an extra scholarship to give to someone else.

Some people will listen to this conversation and agree that this is an injustice. They’ll concede that student-athletes are being exploited and should be allowed to receive some sort of compensation for their work. We’ll call these people Group A. Today, as these types of conversations about the NCAA seem to be more prevalent, Group A seems to be growing. I don’t have any numbers in front of me, but it feels like there are more people in 2015 in favor of student-athletes receiving compensation than there would have been in 1995.

However, three groups still remain strong.

Group B: The people who agree that student-athletes are being exploited, but just don’t give a fuck.

Group C: The people who do not agree that student-athletes are being exploited, and believe that a free college education is acceptable compensation. They also don’t give a fuck, but their don’t-give-a-fuckness is principle-driven.

Group D: The people who stand to profit from the NCAA’s current economic model, and do not want any change.

Of these, Group D is both the most hypocritical and the most understandable. If your income is directly tied to other’s lack of income, it makes perfect sense why you’d be invested in the status quo. Group B and Group C, however, make less sense. Especially when considering that these are often otherwise intelligent and thoughtful people who recognize inequality and injustice in other ways but, for whatever reason, have a blind spot when it comes to college athletes.

Well, it makes less logical sense. Emotional sense, however, is different. And this is where the blind spot comes from.

Although there are dozens of NCAA sports, football and men’s basketball are the ones at the center of this conversation. NCAA football and men’s basketball teams are filled with 18 to 22 year old young men. Many of whom are Black, some of whom would not be anywhere close to a college campus if not for sports, and all of whom were stars in high school and are likely among the preferred class of students in college. Being part of the preferred class of college students means they receive lots of perks; some social (women, automatic elevated social status, etc) and some academic (free books, better meal plans, first dibs with class and dorm selections, etc). And, on top of that, they go to school for free! Basically, their lives seem to be much better than the lives of 99% of college students. And, because their lives seem to be much better than the lives of 99% of college students, some people — often people who were part of that 99% — have a very difficult time conjuring much sympathy for any type of “injustice” they might be facing.

When you think about this, it makes sense why some of these same people could refuse to buy Nikes or shop at Walmart because of how they treat their workforce, but have no fucks left to give about college athletes getting exploited. It’s the exact same concept, the only difference being that the Walmart workers and the people in the Nike sweatshops are presumed to be poor and powerless while supporting NCAA reform means you’re basically saying that you’re in favor of this 6’3, 220 pound superstar athlete with free classes, free tutors, free food, free pussy, and free social status also getting paid. But, that only difference is a huge fucking difference. Maybe not logically. But emotionally.

On the bright side, March is already halfway over. Which means we’re all a couple weeks away from giving absolutely no fucks about this conversation for another 11 months. In the mean time, fill out those brackets. I have Kentucky taking it in mine.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Tynesha Story

    Please tell me that you saw Last Week Tonight yesterday. John Oliver did a BRILLIANT piece about this.

    • Damon Young

      i did an hour or so ago. he’s very good at what he does.

      • Tynesha Story

        As are you sir!

      • st george doesnt exist

        the skit summs it all up.

  • Tentpole

    I am 100% Group C. This is nothing new. Anyone playing college sports knows the game. If you don’t use it wisely, then it your dumb ass that will suffer the results. Most athletes know by the end of their first year of play if they are pro material and if you aren’t then it’s time to hit those books and attempt to be better at learning something you can get paid for. And it is true, I don’t care now. I only cared when I was on scholarship and didn’t want to be on the losing end of my free ride.

  • The primary ambition in this country is to be a celebrity, much more so than to just make money. Which is why people will rally politicians to regulate Wall Street, but rarely ever to regulate Hollywood, which actually has much more power than Wall Street (Hollywood actually controls how we view Wall Street.)

    This is why people don’t really rally against Owners during Lockouts, or complain that the owners are making too much money, the owners aren’t usually celebrities like the athletes they have leverage over.

    In College, Athletes are the closest thing to celebrity, and like celebrities they tend to get similar treatment. A lot of students in college would gladly go in debt for that extra 40K just to live that no-money-having celebrity life those college athletes have for one year, they could care less if trillions are being made by the powers that be.

    Envy > Greed.

    • KMN

      Don’t take this as me being stupid…more like being ignorant (?)…
      Can you explain how Hollywood controls our view of Wall Street? TY!!

    • Sigma_Since 93

      Only if you are in a revenue producing sport. Nobody gives to cents about the All American crew member or the wrestler.

      • Facts. RU did a lot of non revenue athletes dirty. Heck, if you were of color and in a non revenue sport, you were often screwed with no vaseline due to their responsibilities

      • True. This mostly applies to sports like Basketball, Football and Hockey (PWI). I remember one of my friends being on the soccer team and telling me stories about waking up at 4 am for practice…smh.

        • Sigma_Since 93

          I will throw the BS flag on hockey; southern schools don’t have teams so nah. Heck we got up that early in the preseason to run before class. You would be up and you would see ROTC running down one street, the basketball players on another, and the track folks running stadium steps.

          I was a rock star on campus but folks would still shade me. Fresh off my first All American campaign, cats were like “Yo congrats on being an All American but we’re ALL Americans at this table. Now ninja let me copy your statistics notes.”

        • Sigma_Since 93

          Disqus ate my original post but I won’t be stopped.

          Hockey isn’t big because the SEC, PAC 12, and Big 12 don’t have teams. Nobody knows who won last year’s ‘chip (Union College) and I only know that because it’s close to where I grew up.

          All athletes are getting up at 4. It was nothing to see the basketball players running the first three holes of the golf course, the ROTC folks running the campus perimeter, the baseball team running sprints on the diamond and us, the track team, running the stadium steps.

          • Hockey isn’t big when it comes to money, I know that, but when it comes to popularity, it’s frightening how hardcore some white people are into it. I got to meet some hockey players at UMass, and I swear, they actually had more girls than the Basketball players, there was just a lot less diversity obviously…and they were actually legit that year lol.

            • Sigma_Since 93

              But you’re in a hockey hub so the optics are different. Goto Maryland, UNC, DOOK, Texas, or UCLA and hockey gets NO love.

    • esa

      ~ Which is why people will rally politicians to regulate Wall Street, but
      rarely ever to regulate Hollywood, which actually has much more power
      than Wall Street (Hollywood actually controls how we view Wall Street.)

      are you talking about Occupy ? i am curious .. did the accomplish any actual legislation (other than the obvious counter-revolutionary legislation against Americans suspected of terrorism) ?

      • Nah, not just Occupy, although they play a part. It’s just quite normal for the average American to blame Wall Street for the countries woes, and the populist coverage of inflated CEO salaries plays a role in it. Yet, the simple fact is that Wall Street’s sole reason for existence is to fund the nation’s debt, 16.3 trillion and counting.


        If you look at the numbers since year 2000, GDP only dropped between 2008 to 2009, from 14.7 trillion to 14.4 trillion. Every other year GDP goes up regardless of what is going on in the country or how many people are buying things, and ultimately, Wall Street exists solely to ensure that number goes up every year and thus will never be regulated in any significant or relevant way. Which is kind of why Occupy didn’t achieve anything; like many people in this country, they thought they knew how the system works, only to find out that they don’t. They think the movie that is playing is the Matrix, but in reality, it’s Inception.

        • Word. No debt, no Wall Street. The nation’s commercial debt needs van be satisfied in a decentralized manner.

          • There’s no irony in the fact that Alexander Hamilton actually lived in Wall Street and is actually buried there. We like to look back in history and see things that occurred in 200 – 300 year spans and see very little changes, but we have difficulty applying that kind of objective view to ourselves.

        • esa

          ~ Which is kind of why Occupy didn’t achieve anything; like many people in this country, they thought they knew how the system works, only to find out that they don’t.

          am unclear. they didn’t achieve anything why, exactly ? i think it’s a set up, but you appear to be saying something else ..

          • Look outside of the scope of America and look at it from a global perspective:

            Every government is a corporation, and like corporations they want to appear to be profitable in order that other people want to invest, trade and do business with them, as well as borrow them money. America is no different – it never was and it never will be. This is easy to see when your country isn’t the number one corporation in the world, it’s hard to see it when it is: thus the American/OWS/Tea Party dilemma.

            How do you reform a corporation, without dis-incentivizing people with capital not to withdraw it, for fears of instability? You can switch the status quo either through revolution or public opinion, but how do you deal with the problem of other nation’s money and investments, that’s not going to go away, regardless of whose in charge?

            So no OWS didn’t achieve anything, because like I said, they didn’t get the system, and they never wanted to. They just had some parts of the system they didn’t like, and wanted it changed, without considering the inter-linking of everything else, that they overlooked. And because of that, they never even reached the bargaining table. It wasn’t a set-up, it was a variety show.

            • esa

              ~ How do you reform a corporation, without dis-incentivizing people with capital not to withdraw it, for fears of instability?

              why do we believe in the rhetoric of reform ? it reads as smoke and mirrors to me, all things considered in the history of this country’s relentless exploits.

              ~ It wasn’t a set-up, it was a variety show.

              are you saying it was a publicity stunt ? because the media acted rather curiously, as fan boys rather than reporters. i felt like i was watching PT Barnum reincarnated as a government operative.

              • Well, anytime you hand over power to the media, they get to turn whatever you’re doing into entertainment. That’s what they exist for after all and that’s how they make the money.

                And no, you can actually reform a system, it’s just that reforming it requires understanding it in and out and it isn’t fun or exciting.

                • esa

                  ~ And no, you can actually reform a system, it’s just that reforming it
                  requires understanding it in and out and it isn’t fun or exciting.

                  could you kindly provide an example for consideration ?

                  • Any country that has ever risen from being a colony, or an occupied state, to a sovereign nation has done it, and had to do it to achieve a level of power and sovereignty. A lot of Asian countries, especially South America and even Malaysia have vastly reformed their systems in recent years. Will it last, well that’s a different story…

                    However, it also depends on what kind of system you want to create or exist, and whether it’s compatible with the ideas, ambitions of the people. If it isn’t, as what the case in Africa with Pan-Africanism, the end result will always be a dictatorship of one kind or the other.

      • TheOtherJerome

        “i am curious .. did the accomplish any actual legislation”

        As an Occupier… no. No legislation was accomplished… per se. Elisabeth Warren types owe their popularity to OWS though. But there was no direct legislation because many in the movement, stupidly, endorsed a concept of having no leadership.

        Leaders can get corrupted, you see…..

        But without true leadership you can’t push for specific legislation. Or hold any Politicians accountable. Or rally people for votes.

        Power concedes nothing without a demand, yes. But you actually have to demand something that “power” CAN accomplish. A clear goal. Otherwise you’re not demanding, you’re complaining. Folks were saying they weren’t moving from the -spot- unless stuff gets fixed. They were “tired” of it. And what were they tired of? A christmas list worth of gripes that ranged from Immigration, to income inequality to the surveillance/ police state to environmentalism.

        I’m sure you can see the problem. With no one in a leadership position, there was no one to ask those in power: exactly what is it that the protesters want those “in Power” to do, other then simply fix the “bad” stuff?

        I stopped coming out after a few days

        Though the public in general agreed that “things sucked”, without a clearly defined goal the public stopped caring about the protest

        The authorities, even in sympathetic cities, simply waited out the directionless protest until it dwindled to manageable numbers. Then they sent the rest of them home.

        The end

        There is a lesson in here somewhere. But i will say that the concept of the 1% is it’s crowning achievement. And thats not a minor thing.

        • Epsilonicus

          Ehhh… locally in districts things got changed. You could state that OWS was responsible for pushed in many states form minimum wage increases. They helped in Bmore around free speech issues. Also, they helped with some cruddy housing practices by banks. I believe in some states there was helpa round foreclosure issues

          • TheOtherJerome

            You know what? I’m so jaded, i forgot about the local housing issues. There WAS a push to morph into housing advocacy.

            So thats two things. I really felt that rallying to propose legislation would have made a larger difference. There was so much momentum at the beginning. At a certain point you have to move from protesting just to complain to protesting so that you become the one that governs.

            Thats what the Tea Party did. But we wanted no part of it. It was so self defeating, i didn’t understand it.

            • Epsilonicus

              It mostly devolved into local policies, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Its easier for people ot influence.

        • esa

          ~ But without true leadership you can’t push for specific legislation. Or
          hold any Politicians accountable. Or rally people for votes.

          hmm. dont you find this suspicious ?

          now me, i am weededed so i am always questioning the surface of things. but when i saw Arab Spring AND Occupy popping off at the same time, global movements with no leader anywhere to be found i had a revelation: this is that New World Order ish folks been talking about.

          my belief is, this was a counterrevolutionary movement of the Obama government to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, allowing the US government to legally disappear US citizens.

          i cant see any other cause to rally a national movement behind smoke and mirrors ..

          • TheOtherJerome

            “hmm. dont you find this suspicious ?”

            No. It’s just the chaotic nature of people. Especially young ones. Most of the time i’ve found things that look like a grand conspiracy or suspicious, are just people being stupid.

            “this is that New World Order ish folks been talking about.”

            Thats a heck of a leap. because

            “i cant see any other cause to rally a national movement behind smoke and mirrors ..”

            You’re forgetting where the country was at the time. There was and continues to be a lot of dissatisfaction with governments. Plus I don’t think you’d need Obama to wag the dog in order to pass that legislation. The country had been headed in that direction for at least the last 30 years.

            OWS really was an organic thing. Now if Rev Al had swooped in, taken charge of it, then dissipated the energy in useless action as he is basically paid to do, then yes i would see your point.

            But thats not what happened. They stayed leaderless to avoid that very thing. And then it petered out.

            • esa

              ~ Most of the time i’ve found things that look like a grand conspiracy or suspicious, are just people being stupid.

              on the surface of things what we witness is the beta hivemind doing the work of the puppetmasters. those people are very well hidden, and for good reason. they call the shots in this game.

              ~ Thats a heck of a leap.

              absolutely. i dont expect to ever have evidence because i am not an investigative reporter. the little i know of the government keeps me on my toes.

              ~ Plus I don’t think you’d need Obama to wag the dog in order to pass that legislation.

              he signed that legislation. that puts him in the Cheney camp, from my vantage point.

              ~ OWS really was an organic thing.

              so it appeared, was Timothy Leary’s crusade, until it became known, he was a CIA operative working with the Luce family to test means of drug induced mind control.

              • TheOtherJerome

                “so it appeared, was Timothy Leary’s crusade, until it became known, he was a CIA operative working with the Luce family to test means of drug induced mind control.”

                Don’t totally agree with you, but i’ll concede that point.

        • Wild Cougar

          I tried to talk to some of the Occupy people on twitter. I’ve been to congress to lobby on legislation and I knew a few small changes could be made if they started writing bills or administrative regs and brought it directly to legislators. They were absolutely against even making a list of demands. That’s when I stopped talking to them. They were about foolishness. They wanted to complain. Dasit.

          • MsSula

            That’s the same feeling I got from them. It was all about “the protest” and nothing about the follow-through.Yes you are angry, so now what? How do we channel the anger into something productive. Most of them didn’t want nothing else but “be heard”. Yeah…

      • Real talk, I would say disaster relief after Sandy. That decentralized network did better than the Red Cross, and got to places with nothing but hiking backpacks trying to help people. Google Occupy Sandy for details.

        • esa

          mm good point. people’s revolution, after the fact. remember, which neighborhoods specifically were damaged in Sandy.

    • TheOtherJerome

      “but rarely ever to regulate Hollywood, which actually has much more power than Wall Street (Hollywood actually controls how we view Wall Street.)”

      Uh, no it does not. Not even close. Unless you’re counting that one time Tom Cruse crashed the economy? :-/

  • Glad you understand the logic that scares a lot of people away from libertarian thought. People don’t really care about fair. They just want to make sure that no one gets too much status, even, especially even, if I teams screwing over people who have earned stuff fair and square. Read Robin Hanson sometime, and you realize how much of public policy is low key about status battles. I’m with paying the athletes, but if this were politics, the nerds and uncoordinated would be mandated to get some percentage of income to make up for their athletic ability. Of course this money would have to be earned by athletes. ;-)

  • Sigma_Since 93

    Back when my Orangemen were doing big things……*sheds tear*

    You and I both know the system is flawed. Most people don’t know or show because folks attempt to superimpose their college / work situation on the athlete. “You practice x hours a week well I’ve got to study and do a work study job to be here so quit complaining”. The only thing that separates DI from DIII is the level travel situations and the facilities.

  • We dont watch D League basketball, NFL Europe sunk like Truth Hurts. Why? Because we dont care about watching marginal talent play sports….unless that same marginal talent represents our school because then its called amateurism. Student sections get pushed back like LeBrons hairline year after year because these players arent for the school. Students cant play pick up at Cameron Indoor, thats provate property, Victor Cruz was in my class, guess how many times I saw him there doing the same work I was, players cant even get and dime off a jersey they wear. Its exploitation. Period.

    • MsSula

      Right there with you.

      Firmly Group A here.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      I’ve seen high school gyms bigger than Cameron. Once you’ve seen it you’ll be underwhelmed.

    • Facts only. People who talk about the need for minor leagues in hoops and football are so brand new. The D league is struggling after tons of cash thrown into it.

      • Unless there is a top talent playing minor league baseball is for cheap dates, beer, and boiled peanuts.

        • Sigma_Since 93

          All the soldiers used to come up from Camp Lejune for Thirsty Thursdays at the minor league ball park. It was hard to tell who was more thirsty; the women looking for husbands or the soldiers looking for chex and beer.

          • Those marines and chicks were just participating in the circle of life.

          • Talk about the thirst #isreal LOL

  • I support Northwest’s efforts to make a student union.

    • Tx10inch

      Yep. Everyone should unionize and get it over with.

  • I have a modest proposal for the girls thing. You know every campus has male STEM majors struggling to get laid. Therefore every time a football or basketball player gets laid, a need gets some too. A third of MIT is virgins right? Virgins are too stressed to work well. So what if they invent stuff that will have them knee deep in p00n in ten years. They need it now. And if the needs don’t get laid in 72 hours, the athlete gets kicked off campus and has to pay back that scholarship money.

    Hey, ain’t that how welfare works? ;-)

    • *squints*

      • Surely someone as socially oriented as you would care about their fellow man like this right?

    • Sigma_Since 93

      Laughs at proposal

      This was never your life.

      • Hey I dated a lot but technically didn’t lose my virginity until 20. Gimme a break. ;-) Oh, and it should be noted that this is satire for those who don’t get it.

    • Lol, the college feminists are gonna find you and do you like they did Flo in the Progressive Commercial:

  • h.h.h.

    i fluctuate, but i tend to side with C.

    • Sigma_Since 93

      Please elaborate.

      • h.h.h.

        i fluctuate, because i realize that colleges, well the big time colleges, make their revenues based on sports (since who knows when, but it’s been blatent since the Michigan Fab 5), and mens BB and FB probably funds half the sports programs. with the amount of funds that certain colleges generate, those that compete should at least be getting… something.

        that being said, for many of these universities, you are getting an education for…a lot. Kentucky, the #1 school, the favorite in the tournament is currently $45K a year (non-residents) for example, and i wouldn’t be surprised if my favorite school (Go Orange) is more expensive. These players have an opportunity to get a top notch education for free (read: no student loan debt!!!!) to follow their dreams and not be held back with financial worries, and i feel that some don’t take advantage of that when they’re in school. maybe due to the fact that i didnt go to a school that gave scholarships, but we still fielded teams that won football divisions and a bb team that made March Madness, it’s possible to balance sports and studies.

        i understand that we foster a culture of winning at schools by any legal and semi legal means, but there has to be an imitative to put the “student” back in “student-athlete”. that has to start from the top (NCAA execs, college presidents) to allow for students to be able to live if their going to give up their time in athletic service.

        • Um, we can’t make people paying $45k a year study. So many students spend their time goofing off, smoking weed and getting head. You wanna tell me that the dude working for the league and getting educated for free should care more than those dudes? That makes no sense.

        • Sigma_Since 93

          Couple of assumptions here and the blame can be spread around.

          We assume that the student is ready and can handle a college workload. Too much time being spent on passing the clearinghouse scores without ensuring Timmy can read and write.

          Once Timmy is enrolled, is he taking classes that will allow him to graduate or just stay eligible? Professor Stevens only offers his class at 6pm and you play ball = that class not being taken.

          Money. If you visited Timmy at his run down single wide trailer or his apartment in the projects, you know the scholarship doesn’t cover laundry and personal items. If Timmy’s folks are on section 8 and money is tight, where is he supposed to get the extra funds? #easy prey for illegal activity

          • Charla_J

            For this reason, I suggest they allow the sport to be a college major (at least a minor). That way you can earn credits for practice and workout time and these credits would keep them on a path to graduation. It’s what the band members get for practices and games. Student athletes will still have responsibilities like appearances and workouts. For any additional time outside of maybe 10 hours a week for practice, students should be able to earn pay similar to whatever work study students receive. This way they have extra cash for laundry and personal items.

            I think of all the graduate students doing research that the school eventually profits off of. They often times receive graduate assistant roles that allow for free tuition and around $1,000/ month stipend. Student athletes should be the same.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    “Anyone playing college sports knows the game.”

    False. Kids don’t know about redshirs, grayshirts, or that their scholarships are one year renewable agreements. The kids gotta hope their high school coaches know a lil bit or they have folks in their corner that can advocate on their behalf.

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