published Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

David Cook: The whiff of the plantation

Everytime I watch them on TV, I think the same thing: It’s wrong. The way they’re being treated is just plain wrong.

The nonstop work. The powerlessness. The sweat-and-tears devotion to a system that barely rewards them past room and board and scraps from the master’s table.

The way they’re treated violates all the things we hold dear: freedom, fairness, the end of the kingly power. We’re not meant to be servants!

What’s that you say? It’s just the way it was back in 1920s England?

But I’m not talking about “Downton Abbey.”

I’m talking about college athletics.

“The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not,” writes civil rights historian Taylor Branch in The Atlantic’s “The Shame of College Sports.”

Our Southeastern Conference pulled in $1 billion in sports money in 2010, Branch reports. None of it would happen without college athletes.

Unpaid college athletes.

“Last year, CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting paid $771 million to the NCAA for television rights to the 2011 men’s basketball tournament alone. That’s three-quarters of a billion dollars built on the backs of amateurs — on unpaid labor. The whole edifice depends on the players’ willingness to perform what is effectively volunteer work,” writes Branch.

It is like a closed-loop system: universities recruit the top athletes, then receive zillions in TV rights and merchandise profits. Yet little trickles down to the people upholding the entire system: the athletes.

Just look at Wednesday’s National Signing Day.

Across the nation, we will gush and gloat over 18-year-olds in the razzle and dazzle that is modern recruiting: a spectacle that heaps upon the psychologically fragile backs of teenagers god-like glory and fame.

Take Vonn Bell, the Ridgeland High safety. He’s been recruited by the tops; at one point, the crowd at a UT-Knoxville basketball game began chanting his name.

Is he even old enough to vote?

This Wednesday, he will choose a college, promising to play football for them in the years to come. Sure, he’ll get a free dorm room, and meals, and free tuition, which shouldn’t be taken lightly. But in return, the university could make millions off his labor, a distorted and crooked relationship that brings to mind several connotations from our nation’s past.

“An unmistakable whiff of the plantation,” writes Branch. “Perhaps a more apt metaphor is colonialism.”

To argue that paying college athletes would ruin an otherwise pure sport is fictitious. The landscape has been littered for years, and every road leads back to an unchecked profit.

From Penn State to Saban’s millions each year to Cam Newton to Jim Tressel to Reggie Bush and back again.

Yeah. Integrity. Sure.

This week in California, a federal judge gave the green light on a court case — plaintiffs include Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson and Ed O’Bannon — which argues that student-athletes should receive fair compensation from profits made from clothing, video games, other merchandise and broadcasts of games.

“Television broadcast revenues of college sports have soared to nearly $2 billion a year. College sport merchandise licensing revenue — from items like T-shirts, caps, jersey, shoes and video games — was estimated to be $4.6 billion in 2012,” according to Mark Koba of CNBC.

It is the branding of college athletes. Players, being played.

There is only one thing worse than being a servant in the house of lords.

And that’s not knowing you are one.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

8
Comments do not represent the opinions of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, nor does it review every comment. Profanities, slurs and libelous remarks are prohibited. For more information you can view our Terms & Conditions and/or Ethics policy.
conservative said...

Yikes!

February 5, 2013 at 10 a.m.
conservative said...

I read just enough to think - Yikes! What a curmudgeon!

February 5, 2013 at 10 a.m.
ordinaryguy said...

Mr. Cook..when you have a rudementary knowledge of how college sports work then you can chime in...until then take a seat

February 5, 2013 at 11:32 a.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Cook, you're an idiot.

Forget the fact a lot of whites play college sports and you're painting this as a black issue with "plantation"...Look at some real numbers and likely, unintended consequences.

You state tuition, room, and board shouldn't be taken likely, which is exactly what you're doing with this nonsense. Depending on the school, those costs could easily total $25,000 to $50,000 per year, or more.

Now some more numbers-approximately 120 FBS teams, with 85 scholarships a year allowed, splitting the 25-50K difference and you're looking at $400 million. Now add in men's basketball. 350 teams. Now add women's basketball, it doesn't matter if they average 10,000 fans or 100 fans, they will get their cut. Now add college baseball. Lacrosse. Rowing. Do these athletes all get their cut, if not they are headed to court.

There are plenty of other expenses, too. Air travel. Stadium renovation and upkeep. Coaches and staff pay-and since Alabama football generates tens of millions of dollars a year, Saban definitely deserves $5 million a year.

Look deeper. Go to Division II and NAIA sports where scholarships are more often partials. Do they get less because their sports generate less money at their levels? Do they get any? What about walk-ons with no strictly athletic scholarships?

I don't always know what I'm talking about but I do on this one. This is a bad idea unless you want Division I, FBS football and Division I men's basketball to be nothing but preparation for pro sports. The commercial shown repeatedly doesn't lie, most of those athletes will not be going pro but they will be treated like it.

February 5, 2013 at 3:55 p.m.
Easy123 said...

LaughingBoy,

"Do these athletes all get their cut, if not they are headed to court."

You aren't taking into account the size of the teams. Football teams can have 80-100 players. But basketball teams might have a max of 15. Baseball teams might have a max of 20-25. It would be a lot easier to allocated money accordingly considering the actual size of each team.

"I don't always know what I'm talking about but I do on this one. This is a bad idea unless you want Division I, FBS football and Division I men's basketball to be nothing but preparation for pro sports."

Isn't that the current goal for many of these athletes anyway?

"The commercial shown repeatedly doesn't lie, most of those athletes will not be going pro but they will be treated like it."

They are already treated like it. Free education, access to the best doctors, access to the best facilities, preferential treatment in most cases and the list goes on.

February 5, 2013 at 6:56 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

I am taking into account the size of the teams, the point is a lot of those do not produce any kind of revenue. Should they still be paid? If the answer is no there would almost certainly be a legal challenge. Then you go down to the different divisions.

They are treated well but what I am talking about is the possibility of going where they are paid the most, if their team is a high level money producer. Or giving up a sport such as baseball if they think there could be a payout other than their scholarship.

February 6, 2013 at 3:50 p.m.
Easy123 said...

LaughingBoy,

"I am taking into account the size of the teams, the point is a lot of those do not produce any kind of revenue."

Yes, they do.

"Should they still be paid? If the answer is no there would almost certainly be a legal challenge. Then you go down to the different divisions."

Isn't all of that part of the discussion anyway? Why would their be a legal challenge? There isn't a legal challenge on the number of scholarships each sport can give.

"They are treated well but what I am talking about is the possibility of going where they are paid the most, if their team is a high level money producer."

The best athletes go to the best schools. That's happened for many years now. It wouldn't be possible for teams to stockpile athletes if you put a cap (I'm sure you've heard of a salary cap) on the scholarships/money these athletes would receive.

"Or giving up a sport such as baseball if they think there could be a payout other than their scholarship."

Many athletes do that already. Many two-sport athletes will pick one sport over another or accept a minor league contract. Russell Wilson, John Elway, Sammy Baugh, Cedric Benson, Tom Brady, Daunte Culpepper, Colin Kaepernick, Dan Marino, and many more were drafted by Major League baseball. Some actually played minor league baseball but the majority stuck with football. Players tend to play the sport they are best at. I can't see a baseball player changing sports just to get a little more spending money in college. You see more two-sport athletes but doing that is much harder than anyone thinks.

February 7, 2013 at 5:30 p.m.
please login to post a comment

videos »         

photos »         

e-edition »

advertisement
advertisement

Find a Business

400 East 11th St., Chattanooga, TN 37403
General Information (423) 756-6900
Copyright, Permissions, Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Ethics policy - Copyright ©2014, Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Chattanooga Publishing Company, Inc.