Prior to Super Bowl, I had the pleasure of asking Richard Sherman whether or not he felt student athletes were given the time necessary to capitalize on what many term a “free education”. Sherman gave an extensive, and very eloquent response citing his own experiences as a student-athlete. Sherman’s response not
only served as validation for past, present and future student-athletes, but it rang true for me as well.
Beaming with pride after signing my National Letter of Intent, I arrived on campus and began perusing the facilities. Post gallivanting I met my associate athletic director who rose from his chair, shook my hand and said,
“Congratulations, you’ve just been pimped.”
He commenced to enlighten me on the duplicitous nature of the term “free education” commonly associated with scholarships EARNED by “student-athletes”. While what he said to me could be perceived as harsh, and unwarranted, he was merely protecting me. He wanted to ensure I capitalized on the scholarship that I worked for. His perpetual mentorship was paramount in helping me balance my academic and athletic load.
I was blessed to be mentored by an administrator who was once a student-athlete, but the vast majority of college athletes aren’t as fortunate. The paucity of administrators that are capable of relating to student-athletes acquired by institutions of higher learning is baffling, and should be further examined.
If young men and women could relate to those in power, it would go a long way toward enabling them to discern who truly has their best interest at heart. Unfortunately student-athletes are told by their coaches that they are in college for their respective sports far too often, which certainly compromises trust and diminishes credibility.
Below are three major issues that thousands of college student athletes encounter everyday:
For the, “why don’t they just get a job?” crowd; did you know that student athletes aren’t allowed to make more than $2,000 in a calendar year? If they make in excess of $2,000, they will subsequently lose their amateur status. Would you do a job for $4.38 per hour? I didn’t think so.
Unlike the Olympic amateur model, student-athletes aren’t allowed to take advantage of commercial opportunities such as endorsements and autograph signings. While we all recognize life isn’t fair, it is criminal that everyone surrounding the talent is allowed to profit from the student-athlete. Wait, you mean to tell me there’s still a place here in the good ol’ U-S-of-A where an individual isn’t entitled to his or her own identity? Yes — that place is called the NCAA.
The National Letter of Intent that paves the way for thousands of student athletes to be exploited each year is a predatory, perfidious and dishonorable document that the NCAA should consider revising in the very near future.
Ed O’Bannon’s class-action lawsuit against the NCAA and Collegiate Licensing Co. argues that former athletes should be paid for the use of their images and likenesses that they sign away in college. Tyrone Prothro recently united with Ed O’Bannon in his lawsuit.
Prothro was once a potential first-round draft pick before he suffered a compound fracture to his leg in the hollow moments of Alabama’s victory over Florida. Prothro sat idly by as the University of Alabama collected $100 thousand from his near impossible catch against Southern Miss that was voted Pontiac’s Game Changing Performance of the Year. Prothro hoped to play again but was never able to regain his form. Infection set in his leg, which has caused him to have 11 surgeries since the initial injury.
When asked why he joined the lawsuit, Prothro said,
“Say you have a player end up like I did. Because I signed over my rights as a freshman thinking I was going to the NFL, now I can’t do anything about pictures and jerseys and video games. I don’t think it’s a fair deal now that I look at it.”
In reference to the National Letter of Intent he signed as a freshman, Prothro said,
“Now, I realize I signed over pretty much my rights to everything that I accomplished.”
Prothro like many college athletes comes from an impoverished background. Oddly enough, nothing changes when the athletes get to college. Some of them even send money home to help their families.
The room-and-board stipend that student-athletes receive leaves 86 percent of them living below the federal poverty line. There are times that student-athletes go to bed hungry and are asked to wake up in the morning and practice on empty stomachs.
Shabazz Napier used his platform as a member of the UCONN Huskies who won the NCAA National Championship in 2014 to expose a fundamental flaw in college athletics.
“We do have hungry nights that we don’t have enough money to get food in,” Napier said. “Sometimes money is needed. I don’t think you should stretch it out to hundreds of thousands of dollars for playing, because a lot of times guys don’t know how to handle themselves with money. I feel like a student athlete. Sometimes there’s hungry nights where I’m not able to eat, but I still have to play up to my capabilities.”
Yes ladies and gentlemen, there are student-athletes that do go to bed hungry while millions of dollars are floating around them.
Mental and Physical Health
Nearly 63 thousand student-athletes suffer from mental illness but won’t speak out for fear of being retaliated against by their coaches. Mental health issues affect students that are non-athletes as well as student-athletes.
However, student athletes are susceptible to additional risks factors such as time constraints and performance anxiety with regard to their sport. Another risk factor is hostile work environment. It is highly unfortunate when a student-athlete forms a cantankerous relationship with the very coaches who sat in front of the student-athlete’s parents and promised to take care of their child.
The NCAA also doesn’t do much to protect their student-athletes against physical injury either. While they do have a Catastrophic Injury Insurance Program that has a $90 thousand deductible, treatment for most injuries do not reach that benchmark. Furthermore, there is no clause in the Division-I manual that prevents coaches from taking away a player’s scholarship if they can no longer perform.
When fans see Dr. James Andrews operating on a student-athlete like Braxton Miller, they assume that college athletes receive the best medical attention around which is simply untrue. How many times have we seen players reach the NFL or NBA Scouting Combine only to have their dreams compromised, or even worse, dissipate before their very eyes because of an unfavorable medical report?
How do guys like Ryan Swope (career ending number of concussions), Cornelius Ingram (improper ACL repair) or Isaiah Austin (Marfan Syndrome) slip through the cracks? Austin could’ve very well died on the court, but he was allowed to play for two years at Baylor. How does that happen?
Chances are if you’re a student-athlete, the famed Dr. James Andrews is not walking through that door to help you with your recovery anytime soon. Let’s not forget, even if Dr. James Andrews is able to perform a surgery for a student-athlete, that doesn’t guarantee he or she will be able compete again. Marcus Lattimore was once regarded as the best running back in college football, but all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put poor Lattimore’s knee back together again.
There are inherent risks associated with every sport, but it’s truly sad when players lose their earning potential in college and are unable to cash in their gifts at the pinnacle of their sport.
Stanley Doughty who played defensive tackle for the University of South Carolina left school after his junior season to pursue an NFL career. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs, but after his physical with the club he was blindsided by the results. Doughty’s x-ray uncovered that he was playing with a cervical spine injury. Doctors told Doughty that he had to retire for fear that he might be permanently paralyzed if he sustained another jarring hit. The Chiefs terminated his contract and it was later determined that he needed surgery on his spine.
Though the injury happened at the University of South Carolina, the school declined to pay for his impending surgery. Doughty was left to make a decision to either live with the injury that threatened the use of his right arm, or pay $20 thousand. There are an estimated 20,718 college football related injuries each year. Rest assured that there are certainly more cases like Stanley Doughty who the NCAA left with the final bill.
Student-athletes are generating revenue for their universities, which means they are indeed employees. There aren’t many institutions in America that refuse to cover their employees should they be injured on the job. The NCAA just happens to be one of them.
To assume every high school kid knows what they’re getting themselves into once they sign their National Letter of Intent is to assume every high school prospect is “maxed out”. Typically high school athletes have no idea what they’re getting into as they are merely recipients of the genetic lottery and know nothing about the nuances of sport they’ve chosen. Rarely does a Joey Bosa (defensive end out of Ohio State), or a Jeff Demps (Olympic Sprinter out of the University of Florida) enter the college ranks as technicians at their craft.
Justin Valentine who played running back at the University of Minnesota from 2004-2007 said,
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into. It was a job; I can’t believe the things we have to go through just to play a game. It wasn’t as fun anymore.”
Moreover, many college athletes are coerced and cajoled into taking “Mickey Mouse” majors to reduce their academic time commitment, and leave college without receiving a degree of merit. Division-I college athletes practice at least 40 hours a week, which leaves time for little else.
While it’s true that student athletes are only required to keep a 2.0 GPA, many choose majors with less rigorous curriculums to guarantee eligibility throughout the remainder of their collegiate-athletic career. Many have proposed student-athletes simply do the minimum and maintain the 2.0 GPA to remain eligible, which is an incredibly reckless and irresponsible solution. What happens when that athlete who was advised to “do the minimum” goes into the workforce and is asked about his or her GPA during an interview?
Student-athletes are well aware of the assumptions and vitriolic language ascribed to them by the general public. Student-athletes call them jealous and label them “haters”. Unfortunately, those that don’t attempt to empathize and tear down student-athletes requesting better treatment aren’t jealous, and the term “hater” is an improper appellation. The behavior they exhibit is something much more egregious than being jealous — they’re envious.
Jealousy and envy are not synonymous. Jealousy occurs when one party does not want the other to have something. Envy on the other hand is coveting something that someone else possesses. Those that have never withstood the rigors of being a student-athlete and present “alternatives” such as “do the minimum” as a substantial option are dismissive of the plight of student-athletes and envious of what their abilities have afforded them.
There are those that are far too impetuous to label student-athletes thugs and party animals to justify the narrative that student-athletes are coddled, spoiled and undeserving of anything more than a “free education”. However, the vast majority of student-athletes make tremendous social sacrifices for a chance at success in the realm of academia as well as athletics. Sure student-athletes make mistakes, but haven’t we all fallen short of what is expected of us a time or two? The mendacious perception that student athletes are thugs or party animals is a falsehood and should cease being parroted.
While paying student-athletes an exorbitant amount of money might not be an effective solution to all of the problems student-athletes face, an increased room-and-board stipend, and a grace period to allow student athletes to finish their degrees while still on scholarship would be a great start.
At the 2015 NFLPA Super Bowl press conference, president of the NFLPA Eric Winston spoke about finding ways to help student-athletes with a smoother transition into the workforce.
“It’s not about the money necessarily,” Winston said. “I had a conversation with Kain Colter and he was talking about the Northwestern guys that didn’t redshirt and were good enough to play right off the bat. They played four years, and then they wanted to go to grad school and had to pay both years. But the guys that redshirted got four years and then another year, so they got one year of grad school paid for and only had to ‘foot the bill’ for one year. And you’re talking about $50,000 or whatever it might be.
“We’re talking about making sure guys are given the time necessary to get their studies done. We’re talking about guys that shouldn’t be hitting twice a week or everyday leading up to the game. That’s the stuff we’re talking about. We’re talking about their education, we’re talking about their rights and we’re talking about their health and safety. I think that’s what gets drowned out when the question is asked whether or not they should get paid.”
Please listen to the question I posed to Richard Sherman and his response below.