When everyone from Clarence Thomas to Sonia Sotomayor agrees that what college football does is indefensible, it’s been thrown for a major loss.
A unanimous Supreme Court ruling shines a very harsh spotlight on the NCAA, which has essentially gotten rich on the backs of student-athletes who get a mere pittance. I’m all for the principle of amateur sports, but it’s become a scam built on exploitation.
I can’t put it any better than Brett Kavanaugh, who has coached his kids’ basketball teams: “The NCAA’s business model would be flatly illegal in almost any other industry in America.”
Basically, all of us have looked the other way while colleges, the league and TV networks have raked in billions of dollars and the young football players get close to bupkis. That’s why the ruling has political and legal implications beyond this one case brought by former college players. And this scam has been going on for more than a century.
“The NCAA’s incoherent, self-serving interpretation of amateurism is as frail as it seems.,” says Washington Post sports columnist Jerry Brewer.
College athletes still can’t be paid to play, but under Monday’s decision, they can be reimbursed for such expenses as musical instruments, tutoring, scientific equipment and internships.
Most people probably think that college athletes have a pretty sweet deal, with full scholarships and easy academic workloads that are often treated as an afterthought. But without them, there are no packed stadiums, big-name coaches and lucrative TV exposure. They are the only ones who don’t get to reap the rewards.
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And the NCAA only gets away with this because of an antitrust exemption granted by government. “Nowhere else in America can businesses get away with agreeing not to pay their workers a fair market rate on the theory that their product is defined by not paying their workers a fair market rate…The NCAA is not above the law,” Kavanaugh wrote.
The Biden administration filed a brief supporting the athletes. And as the New York Times notes, thanks to action by local officials, “student-athletes in at least six states are poised to be allowed to make money off their personal fame”—just like in a normal business environment.
It seems to me only a matter of time before more lawsuits chip away at the NCAA’s stubborn refusal to share some of its wealth with the workers.
As for pro football, Carl Nassib of the Las Vegas Raiders is generating huge headlines by becoming the first active NFL player to come out as gay—as hard as that is to believe in 2021.
The defensive end said in a video: “I’ve been meaning to do this for a while now, but I finally feel comfortable enough to get it off my chest.
“I’m a pretty private person, so I hope you guys know that I’m really not doing this for attention. I just think that representation and visibility are so important.”
Nassib is doing this the right way, donating $100,000 to a group dedicated to preventing suicide by LGBTQ youths. And rather than using this moment to build his personal brand, he says he won’t be doing any interviews and hopes that reporters understand. Commissioner Roger Goodell praised Nassib for the announcement. And perhaps we can reach a point where such matters are no longer news.
If you need further proof that sports and politics are inextricably linked, the Trump Organization has sued New York City for wrongfully terminating its contracts to operate a golf course in the Bronx, among other properties.
It was obviously a retaliatory move by Bill DeBlasio, who has denounced Donald Trump for years and whose own presidential bid was embarrassing. The suit charges that “de Blasio’s actions are purely politically motivated, have no legal merit, and are yet another example of the mayor’s efforts to advance his own partisan agenda and interfere with free enterprise.”
De Blasio made no secret of this at the time, accusing Trump of inciting the Capitol riot and declared that “the City of New York will not be associated with those unforgivable acts in any shape, way or form.”
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I’m not defending Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, but people sign contracts so they can’t just be tossed out because the other party sours on them. The only feeble attempt to relate this to the golf course is the mayor’s argument that it can’t attract a big professional tournament because Trump is radioactive. The Bronx is not a big stop on the tour, and there’s nothing in the contract about attracting such a tournament.
A City Hall spokesman basically validated the company’s allegation by saying Trump “interfered with basic democracy…You do that, and you lose the privilege of doing business with the City of New York.”
There was a time when sports seemed to thrive as a welcome refuge from crass political warfare. Those days are long gone.