By Ken Reed
A group of Pac-12 football players (#WeAreUnited) have joined together to present a set of demands to Pac-12 conference administrators. The demands vary from Covid-19-based health and safety concerns to economic and racial justice issues.
It’s clear to everyone — including the players — that college athletic conferences, and individual universities, have prioritized getting football revenue over athlete safety, despite what some coaches, athletic directors and presidents are saying. And the way they want to get that revenue is on the backs of their unpaid athletes, whom they apparently view more as assets than human beings.
Colleges and universities across the country have called athletes back to campuses, campuses that otherwise are like ghost towns because there aren’t any other students around. Many schools have decided that classes will only take place online this fall. Nevertheless, these same schools are announcing fall football schedules for the students on their football teams.
There simply is no ethical justification for colleges calling athletes back to campus while telling other students to stay home because it’s not safe to be on campus.
It’s simply a case of money taking precedence over student welfare. The reality is, more than a dozen football teams around the country have already seen Covid-19 outbreaks significant enough that they’ve had to shut down all workouts. And that’s before formal football practices have even started.
As Dan Wolken wrote in USA Today:
”The 2020 college football season will happen to whatever extent it possibly can because athletics departments need the money, and they’re placing that burden on the backs of unpaid amateurs who are taking on all the risk to their health and inconvenience to their lives without any added incentive to do so.”
When it comes to the issue of whether or not to play sports during a raging pandemic, pro athletes have the incentive of big salaries and a union to make sure the teams’ safety protocols are as good as they can be. College athletes don’t have salaries, and they don’t have a union to fight for them.
College athletes are getting a scholarship you say? Yes, but is a scholarship sufficient compensation for risking contracting a serious virus?
A college scholarship is certainly valuable but it’s a far cry from the fair market value of big-time college football and basketball players. According to a news study led by Drexel University Professor and Athletic Administration Concentration Program Director, Ellen Staurowsky, the fair market value over four years for a football player in one of the Power Five conferences, along with independents Notre Dame and BYU, is approximately $1.35 million. The fair market value over four years for a men’s basketball player at a Power Five or Big East school is approximately $2.2 million. Given that a four-year full-ride scholarship can range from approximately $100,000 to $250,000, what we’re talking about here is the very definition of economic exploitation.
Remember, the vast majority of college athletes never make a dime as professional athletes. Their careers are over once their college eligibility runs out. As such, their true market value as an athlete will never be higher than it is in college.
In the meantime, there are now troubling reports — that the school denies — that several Washington State football players have been cut for being part of the #WeAreUnited movement. If true, it’s yet another example of colleges seeing athletes as nothing more than assets that can be easily discarded if they don’t play along with the NCAA amateurism game.
The “#WeAreUnited” athletes won’t get all their demands met, certainly not by this fall. But this collective movement might lead to a better situation for college athletes in the future. In the name of justice we can only hope so.
As recently deceased Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis said, “We must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.”
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
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, and has a long involvement with the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sport (now called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition). We discuss the state of college athletics today, given the pressures of NIL, the transfer portal, sports gambling and huge media contracts. McMillen then provides great perspective on the poor state of physical fitness our young people are experiencing today.
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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.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Episode #24 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Mental Health and Athletes: Ending the Stigma – Nathan Braaten and Taylor Ricci are the founders of Dam Worth It, a non-profit created to end the stigma around mental health at colleges and universities through sport, storytelling, and community creation.
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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