Pimps, Overseers and the NCAA: Time to Change the Tune of This Song

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse UniversityScholarship in Action 

NCAA athletics has become the new prohibition – the illogical construct that creates a destructive underground economy because leadership is being guided by an illusion of what should be, rather than confronting the NCAA for what it really is: a professional sports league. Some of our most highly educated figures within academia are forced to convince themselves that a multi-billion dollar sports entertainment behemoth should be able to get away with not paying its primary employees.

The smart white men running the NCAA also took enough history classes to easily see the parallels with slavery:  An oppressive and unethical institution that everyone knows to be a farce, yet it continues to survive because it would be entirely too costly to shut it down.  It’s hard to walk away from a billion dollars per year, even if you have to be a criminal and pathological liar in order to protect it. Actually, the NCAA earns more ad revenue in March Madness than the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball earn during their post seasons; that much money would tempt any of us to become crooks.

NCAA athletes are not slaves, we know this, but exploitation is a continuum, not a dichotomy. Even the five-year old child working in a Chinese sweat shop has the right to stay home from work if he chooses to do so.  But staying home would be to his family’s detriment.  If one allows the beast of capitalism to operate in an unregulated manner, we quickly find that allegedly free human beings are ultimately left with no option but to work for an unfair wage. While the NCAA spends millions monitoring the choices of college athletes, almost no one monitors the actions of the NCAA to ensure that their labor practices are consistent with American values – as a result, they are as un-American as Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

NCAA President Mark Emmert, who earns nearly a million dollars per year off the families of NCAA athletes, has maintained the lie of the league by stating publicly that college athletes will not be paid under his regime.  He’s the latest overseer in a system that loves the idea that in a racist society like this one, Black men should be happy with whatever scraps you choose to give them. He and others are allowed to get away with their exploitation because most Americans are as unoffended by the exploitation of black families as they are by the slaughtering of chickens at KFC.

“I don’t see why they should get anything more than what I get,” says the typical white kid on Any Campus USA. “They already get special treatment and I’m sick of it. I’d love to be able to go to school for free.”

Well, I would tell that kid this: As soon as you grow to be seven feet tall and can score 20 points per game on a nationally televised show that draws 10 million viewers and $30 million dollars in revenue, then I’ll speak up for your mother too. I’ve always been amazed at how the nerdy Chemistry major somehow believes that he’s made as strong of a financial contribution to the university as the basketball star who draws tens of millions of dollars in advertising. If that’s the case, then I should be paid the same as Will Smith.

It’s interesting that the same NCAA administrators who stand adamantly against the idea of compensating a family for their child’s labor have no problem collecting their own massive salaries every year. If coaches, administrators and commentators are not interested in taking a vow of poverty, then athletes’ families should not have to do so either. The notion that an administrator or coach deserves to be fairly compensated while the individual doing the work does not is nothing more than the same second class citizenship that African Americans have faced for the last 400 years – simply asking for equality is out of the question.

So, not only does the NCAA continue to pimp the athletes, it also pimps the rest of us.  Their multi-million dollar ad campaigns (again, financed by the labor of the athletes) have convinced us that it’s scandalous when a player (worth over $10 million dollars to his university) signs autographs in exchange for a free tattoo.  They paint “street agents” who share money with an athlete’s struggling family as criminals, while simultaneously making it clear that they could care less if the player’s mother and siblings starve to death.  They’ve convinced us that they are the good guys….the benevolent overseers who are giving these pathetic Negroes something that is a far cry better than anything these kids could get from “the hood.”

While NCAA officials might hope our response would be, “Thank you massa, that’s mighty kind of you,” a better reaction might be, “Why am I doing all the work and you’re keeping all the money?” But then again, there’s a reason slave owners didn’t want slaves to learn how to read….it’s for the same reason NCAA administrators want black men focused on bling, women and fame rather than intricate business models and labor rights. When an oppressed group of people start asking hard questions, it makes for a very uncomfortable conversation.

The bottom line is that NCAA athletes deserve the same labor rights as the rest of us. They should also be able to unionize and engage in collective bargaining. There is no logical reason that athletes shouldn’t receive liberties that are freely given to those who aren’t doing the work to earn the money.

Slavery didn’t end because slave owners decided to do the right thing. It ended because those who’d become possessed by the demons of capitalism had their power forcibly taken away from them. Athletes, parents and concerned citizens must file lawsuits, organize, protest and refuse to play until they are fairly compensated. Money and power are typically not given away without a fight, and if you’re not willing to fight for your freedom, then you do not truly deserve it.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  He is also the founder of ALARM, the Athlete Liberation Academic Reform Movement.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. 

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31 Comments

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31 responses to “Pimps, Overseers and the NCAA: Time to Change the Tune of This Song

  1. Pingback: NCAA Athletes Start a New Season with No Labor Rights, No Compensation and No Help for Their Families « Black College Students

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  9. detroitsdaughter

    Excellent article. Amazing actually. I have always felt that college athletes should be compensated in some way. It is unconscionable that they are not paid even a stipend to help them pay for their laundry or buy a pizza. This has always troubled me especially considering the fact that they can’t get a part time job like any other college student.
    This piece is straight out of 40 Million Dollar Slaves, when will we speak up?

  10. Pingback: NCAA Athletes Start a New Season with No Labor Rights, No Compensation and No Help for Their Families « Black Athletes: Dr. Boyce Watkins Hits the state of the black athlete in America

  11. Pingback: NCAA Athletes Start a New Season with No Labor Rights, No Compensation and No Help for Their Families | Paying College Athletes: Dr. Boyce Watkins explains why college athletes should get paid

  12. Fifty years ago college athletes receiving only the accouterments of a scholarship for their athletic service may have been fine, but as the years passed, the income levels of the rich rose exponentially and economic prices began to explode faster up. The need to compensate college athletes who were suffering on near impoverished levels was obvious, but the greed of those in power up front, and behind the scenes was too overwhelming and the empathy too low.

    Now when the poverty to wealth ratio is criminally overwhelming the rich are still arrogant and vile enough to refuse pay to the young athletes and can do so because all of the rich are rallying together against the poor. They use their media to portray themselves as sympathetic and caring, but this cannot be, in light of the horrible affects their greed has on the athletes, and in fact, the entire population. All of these negative and dangerously inhumane actions by the rich affect the populace in the worst ways. There should be no wonder why people are starting to rebel in the streets around the world.
    We must understand that it is too late to stop what will happen ahead.

    At the rate of the greed and hatred in this country their should soon be no reason for students to bother with college because they are only learning how to blend in to a vile society and conform to continuing this outrageous imbalance in human welfare and wealth.

    In London England the youth are in the streets rioting and the wealthy, the well paid and their well off police are denying that anything has caused this dilemma. They are in denial that they are seeing the reactions of a people who have had enough! When will American cities explode? Maybe soon. The black population is suffering direly under this Obama “presidency”. The whites are suffering too but always not as severely. Soon things will explode, and the police forces we pay to serve us will be turned on our children by the rich!

  13. SapphiresMomma

    Oh boy! Here we go again!

    I have a child that came up under NCAA/college scholorship, and I have to tell you that it helped our (black) family quite a bit that our child received an education that was excellent, along with the education of being a college athlete, meeting people from all over, learning skills to interact with others and a respect for themselves, and others. My son received an quality education, one that I was unable to afford for him, and the entire experience helped to shape him into the wonderful man he is today.

    While I respect some of your commentary, you are off base with many, for instance your making a headline that “you will not be seeing “The Help”, which is just pure ignorance and foolishness.
    I think for you to equate slave master slavery/overseers to the NCAA is purly foolish, and narrow. Remember, it is not only black kids that have received scholorships to play ball, white kids are there as well, and I don’t recall seeing any whites as slaves in America!

  14. annc

    @SapphiresMomma..
    You don’t quite understand. I received a great college education and so did my children and neither of them are athletes. We have also traveled the world. Granted we received academic scholarships, grants & loans, but we did not have to adhere to the stringent reqs that college slaves I mean athletes had to deal with. I attended college with quite a few athletes and its not a bed of roses…Its hard for them to eat when their families back home are hungry. They can’t help out because they are obligated to practice and be the best to pay somebody else’s mortgage. I believe compensation or stipend is in order…share the wealth..

  15. Meanchick

    Since when is playing college sports the only way a black man (or woman) can recieve a quality education? How about studying hard and applying for grants, scholarships and loans? I’m receiving a quality education and I’m no athlete. I’ve studied abroad several times and I’m an honor student, but that is through a lot of hard work and sacrifice, something many college athletes aren’t willing to do.

  16. F.W. Lee

    Same argument about paying or not paying college athletes with no clear answers. My question is where does the blame or accountability also fall on the community, parents, high school coaches and athletes for chasing the dollars and dreams rather than focusing on a well-rounded education. It starts at home and too often there are those in the black community who equate sports and going to “well-known” HWCUs as the road to fame and fortune. Unfortunately, when reality comes into view, many cry foul and slavery. Individuals do have a choice and they could take their talents somewhere other than the big sports program to pursue and become more well-rounded person that runs the show instead of being the show. Just think what would happen parents and athletes decided to take their talents to

  17. F.W. Lee

    (cont from previous post) smaller schools or HBCUs instead of the big name HWCUs. Talk about flexing your power. The industry would take note and the athletes may win points in the community for their stances. Is this wishful thinking?

  18. estelle

    I love this article!!!! Please, all of us this is a cause we must follow and support.

  19. Pingback: NCAA Athletes Start a New Season with No Labor Rights, No Compensation and No Help for Their Families | africanamericanscholars.com

  20. Kevin L Young, Th.M, PhD

    Slavery has not ended sir! In fact, we continue under what is called defacto-enslavement which gives the appearance of some upward mobility. Yet the net effect is that those on the bottom yet remain on the bottom. The 13th amendment simply abolished enslavement in the general sense. Yet if one is convicted of a crime you can be forced to work without compensation in a penal insttitution. The NAACP is for the advancement of colored people! Are we still colored? I think that one could interpret the acronym to me those who have obtained “in the house status.” Most socalled Black advocacy organiizations are simply quasi-systems to maintain euro-centric control of the African-in-America.

  21. TAS

    Enough with the never-endign “pimp, slave, sweatshop BS about college athletes. First of all, they get the equivalent of 25-50K per year in scholarships for 4 months of work or 75-100K annualized…Then for the 10-15 athletes who are good enough to be paid for their “stardom,” should you then take away the scholarships of those not as highly talented on the team along with the hundreds of others in sports which do not produce the same revenues….Seems like a bad bargain for those “non phenoms” of all colors who are trying to use their athletic skills to get an education…

  22. Pingback: Sexist, Racist, Ugh: NCAA Sports Aren’t Just About Black Men | Politically Unapologetic

  23. Black People aren’t the only student athletes you egotistical prick.

  24. jud

    Wow, this is probably the stupidest nonsense I’ve ever read… The simple fact is that these are STUDENTS who are going to SCHOOL. If you say “college basketball players should get paid for what they do”, then why not say the same thing about the people who work on the school newspaper? They contribute to the school, it’s a job.. it’s not just PLAYING A GAME. I can’t believe someone actually finds this unfair. College games are overhyped and overglamorized, and people seem to enjoy that, but the simple fact is maybe you should spend more time researching the state of education today instead of wasting your time on the “racism of the NCAA for not paying people” who shouldn’t be paid because they’re going to school for an education (should we even talk about the massive scholarships for college athletes?). If these people make it to the NBA or NFL, they won’t worry about not getting paid in college: they’ll have millions. And if they don’t make it pro, then they can fall back on WHAT THEY WENT TO SCHOOL FOR. You know, I read BS like this and I realize it’s people like you that keep racism alive.

  25. William s

    Don’t forget the nerdy chemistry major. His tax money will pay the welfare check for the NCAA athlete once his “amazing contribution” to the university is finished. Most are wash outs who fail to take advantage of the incredible opportunity they are given by way of scholarships. Genetics provided that opportunity; not hard work.

    I recommend all “star” high school athletes boycott the scholarship from major colleges. Stay home, get a job to help their struggling family (if they are really that worried) and go to community college once they save a couple of bucks. There. The exploitation concerns are solved.

    Dr Watkins should focus on the real problems of the black man and not the plight of spoiled athletes. But that wouldn’t pull in readers, would it?

  26. John Doe

    Racist much??

  27. Nick

    @jud..Easy on the caps bro. If you are working on a school newspaper staff you can still get a real job to earn money. College athletes cannot get a real job. Not all athletes are the stars that get full scholarships. There is more than one way to look at this. How much money do they make for their school and get nothing in return? very unfair.

  28. Pingback: Sexist, Racist, Ugh: NCAA Sports Aren’t Just About Black Men | LaShaun Williams

  29. Great blog dude! I just linked to this post on my Delicious. Keep it up!

  30. Hi . I found your web site by way of Google at the same time as searching for a similar subject, your website came up. It seems to be good. I`ve bookmarked it in my google bookmarks to visit later..thank you for your article..i’m very interested. keep up date articles.

  31. Christian

    This is a stupid argument. It’s a sacrifice you make to have a better life, whether it is in a professional league or not WITH A COLLEGE DEGREE. No one forces these players to take the scholarships, and that would allow them to work. Keep in mind that without theses scholarships many of these athletes wouldn’t even get into these schools. It’s fun to bat around the idea, but it’s baseless and silly. Ever hear of Title IX? You know where “all that money” goes? To pay for scholarships for all the other athletes at the school. There is no big bucket of cash at most of the schools out there.

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