Does your March Madness bracket support exploitation?
Joe Nocera, author of Indentured, suggests that it might. College sports generate billions of dollars in revenue every year, but student athletes won’t see a cent of it.
Last night on the Daily Show, Trevor Noah interviewed Nocera about the plight of student athletes and some possible solutions.
Division One athletes are working 50 to 60 hours a week at their sports, without any pay. “So, you’re saying they’re slaves?” Noah asked Nocera. “No,” quipped his guest, “More like indentured servants.”
Even if universities wanted to pay their athletes, they can’t. NCAA regulations strictly forbid monetary compensation, to maintain students’ “amateur” status. The NCAA argues that these students are not being exploited, because they’re getting their degrees; instead of cash, athletes receive scholarships.
Nocera points out, “They get a scholarship, but they don’t often get an education.” Athletes are siphoned into classes and majors “designed to keep them on the field.” Many never finish their degrees, because they use up their four years’ NCAA eligibility before completing their coursework.
But don’t they go on to lucrative careers in the pros? Very rarely. Nocera notes that only 5 percent play sports professionally after college. Instead, many end up regretting their lost education.
Nocera has some solutions: “I think they need more rights, I think they need due process, and I think they need money.”
He insists that there is no inherent reason why athletes must be amateurs simply because they’re students: “Lots of students get paid” for other on-campus jobs. “The only ones who don’t get paid are athletes.”
Nocera further suggests that universities have a “moral responsibility” to provide their athletes “lifetime scholarships and lifetime health insurance.” That proposal may seem extreme, but the idea that universities should allow students to finish their degrees and continue to treat their sports-related injuries is completely reasonable.
How can change happen? The courts, Congress, and the NCAA have done nothing. Nocera suggests that college teams take matters into their own hands by going on strike: “If one team in the Final Four decided not to come out, and just stayed in the locker room, you’d change the system in an hour.” Noah replied, “Can you tell me which team that would be? I need to change my bracket.”
While a Final Four strike seems both unrealistic and unfair to the athletes, the idea has potential on a smaller stage. Nocera cites the example of the University of Missouri’s football team, who threatened not to show up for the week’s game if racial injustices on campus were not redressed. “Think about what happened,” he said. “The president of the university resigned within 36 hours.”
Nocera has given us all something to think about, as we enjoy this year’s March Madness. Noah recommends his book “if you love basketball — or if you just like exploitation.”
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