By Ken Reed
Frederick Douglas once said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” It’s a great quote. However, most of the time, demands — even of the loud variety — won’t do the trick.
People in power, especially those with economic power, don’t change the models that have given them an advantageous position without being forced to. Historically, one of the best ways to force change in America has been through lawsuits. Right now, the NCAA is facing a doozy of a lawsuit. One that could change the entire system of big-time college athletics.
Obannon v. NCAA is an antitrust lawsuit filed in 2009 by a former UCLA All-American basketball player named Ed O’Bannon and a few other former college athletes. Basically, the suit claims that the NCAA shouldn’t be allowed to profit from athletes’ names and images without sharing royalties with the athletes (e.g., from video games, TV broadcasts and rebroadcasts, promotional videos, etc.). The suit also wants current and future athletes to be able to make licensing deals of their own. It’s a scary deal for the NCAA, made scarier for college power brokers by the fact O’Bannon’s legal team is arguing that the case deserves class-action status. If a judge grants class-action status in this case (a judge is scheduled to rule in June), the NCAA would be liable for claims brought not just by O’Bannon and his fellow plaintiffs but by potentially all former college athletes.
Most college sports observers are focusing on the potential class-action status and the financial ramifications that could result from that. To me, the most intriguing aspect is the prospect of college athletes being able to make their own licensing deals with sponsors. I like that. I also like allowing athletes to get paid for autograph signing appearances, and even allowing gifts from boosters or anybody else. Why not? Every other student on campus has those rights. Every other American has those rights.
It’s really not that outlandish of a concept. The old Olympic amateurism model was eventually broken down. Olympic athletes can now benefit from their talents. The AAU predicted that all hell would break loose in the Olympic movement if amateur athletes started to receive financial rewards. In reality, the Olympic transition from the amateur model has been pretty smooth and the Olympic Games have never been more popular.
Author and civil rights historian Taylor Branch calls the NCAA plantation system a modern-day civil rights issue.
“College athletes are citizens and their rights are being deprived by the NCAA in a way that’s basically collusion,” says Branch. “The NCAA system is not only unjust, it’s unstable.”
Here’s hoping the O’Bannon case goes a long way toward eradicating this unjust system.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #14 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Making Sense of the Injury Pandemic in Major League Baseball – The guest is Gary McCoy, a strength, conditioning and high performance coach who has worked with several Major League Baseball organizations. Our focus is the injury pandemic in baseball, what’s causing it and how it can be fixed.
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Episode #13 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Conversation With Long-Time MLB Exec Dan Evans About What’s Right With Baseball and What Could Be Better – Evans is a former general manager for the Los Angeles Dodgers and is currently a consultant for Go the Distance Baseball, which owns the Field of Dreams movie site.
Episode #12 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Fun Chat With Dan Gutman, Author of the Baseball Card Adventure Series for Kids
Episode #11 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Latest on Brain Trauma, Concussions and CTE with Dr. Chris Nowinski – Nowinski is CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
Episode #10 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: An Issues Discussion With Paul Dolan – Dolan is the Cleveland Indians Owner and CEO.
Episode #9 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Talking Sports Issues With Ralph Nader – Nader is a consumer advocate and was named one of the “100 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. He is the founder of League of Fans.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
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