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 #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
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.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
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.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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