One of the big issues in college sports right now is amateurism. It has long been the rule that student athletes cannot be compensated for playing, beyond free tuition and expenses. This goes back to the old, aristocratic spirit that also animated the modern Olympics; the young men rowing for Oxford and Cambridge were something completely different from grubby boxers and what-all who competed for cash.
What happens to college sports now that the barrier is falling, I have no idea. Most likely just an intensification of the trend we have already seen over the past 25 years, with a few elite schools vacuuming up all the top talent, many of whom will stay in college only for a year before turning pro.
And this is very popular among students:
Eighty-one percent of students in the College Pulse survey said the NCAA takes advantage of student-athletes, and their reasoning often boiled down to money.
“They [the NCAA] make billions of dollars each year while athletes, who tend to be browner and poorer than the student body, make either nothing at all or a few thousand dollars in scholarship incentives,” wrote a student at Grinnell College. “Many do not graduate because of the time commitments from their sports, and the physical toll on their bodies is immense with no further support if they do get injured. I would say all of that is unethical in the extreme.”
Whether the responses were broken down by gender, race or political leaning, students overwhelmingly sided against the NCAA. For example, Black or African American (86 percent), Hispanic or Latino (86 percent) and multiracial students (92 percent) were especially likely to think that the NCAA takes advantage of student-athletes, while 80 percent of white students also agreed.
“Student athletes have so many restrictions placed on them, and schools/NCAA make [an] insane amount of money off of them, without those students seeing that money,” wrote a University of Louisville student. “And let’s be real, student athletes are set up to fail after college most of the time.”
This sort of argument is old and noble; after all the main argument Lincoln advanced against slavery was that black people had the same right as whites to profit from their own labor. I have recently read two memoirs written by slaves who praised their former enslavers for allowing them to keep all the money they earned while working off the plantation; being a slave in a legal sense seemed to bother them less than having their enslavers take half the money they earned. The right of every working person to profit from that labor strikes all of us as fundamental and just.
So it makes sense that many Americans see the unpaid labor of student-athletes as wrong, especially when others profit from it.
But: who will really benefit from this change? Surely not the average athlete. I wonder if the average athlete might even lose a little, since right now universities recruit top talent partly by creating luxurious facilities and so on that all athletes can use. Once they can recruit by offering cash or sponsorships, will they care as much about spiffy weight rooms and athletic dorms?
The beneficiaries will be the top athletic stars, the people who already view college as a brief stop on the way to a professional career. Some of them will no doubt land multi-million dollar deals. Great for them.
But isn't this a perfect example of the mindset that has brought us such extreme inequality? Millions for the stars, nothing for the rest of us? We agree on the principle that people should profit from their own labor, especially those (like top athletes) who work extremely hard. But this Civil Rights principle, noble in the abstract, will in this case just enrich people who would in a few years (barring catastrophic injury) be rich anyway.
Freedom, in and of itself, will not lead to a world I would think of as just.
I find that many Americans who think of themselves as leftist react very strongly against all limitations on freedom. Student athletes should be free to profit from their labor. Marijuana smokers should be free to do their thing, and growers to profit from it. Women should have the same salaries as men in corporate jobs that take up all our time and flog our souls. Working people should be free to drink or gamble away their paychecks even if their kids go hungry.
So long as that is our attitude, we will never create a more equal world.