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Compensation for college athletes

George Curry | 5/19/2014, 10:58 a.m.
Athletes at Northwestern University shocked the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body of college sports, by taking steps to ...
George Curry

(NNPA) – Athletes at Northwestern University shocked the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the governing body of college sports, by taking steps to unionize student/athletes. Surprisingly, NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell, former NFL great Jim Brown and Harry Edwards, who organized a human rights protest at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City that culminated in Tommy Smith and John Carlos giving a clenched fist salute when they mounted the winners’ platform, do not support the idea.

It’s not that Russell, Brown or Edwards have mellowed – they have not. Rather, they think there’s a better way to help athletes who generate $500 billion a year to major universities, athletic vendors and others.

“I am totally against the unions in college,” Brown said. “I don’t like the NCAA. I think it’s a greedy organization, a dictatorial organization, an organization that’s totally unfair to the players … But on the other hand, I think we have all gotten away from the value of an education.”

Russell and Brown made their comments recently as part of a sports panel moderated by Edwards at the University of Texas. The discussion was part of a 3-day summit at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Russell said the NCAA’s money machine should be viewed within the context of other successful U.S. businesses.

“All great fortunes are amassed on cheap or slave labor,” he explained. “The NCAA – the one group everybody is focusing on – has this money machine. To keep it this way, the labor force has to be free or paid low wages.”

As Everett Glenn, a former sports agent, pointed out in a 3-part series for the NNPA News Service: “College sports is big business – for everyone except the athletes who make it possible. College basketball and football have long operated as quasi-farm systems for professional teams by discovering talent, training players, and highlighting performance.”

For example, Glenn noted, “Black athletes represent 52.9 percent of Ohio State University’s basketball and football rosters and dominate among its star players, fueling a nearly $130 million athletic department budget on a campus where Black males represent only 2.7 percent of the student body. The disparity between the graduation rate for OSU’s Black football players, at 38 percent, and all student-athletes, at 71 percent, represent the highest disparity in the Big Ten.”

If colleges are serving as farm teams for the pros, players are spending less and less time on the farm.

This year, for example, Kentucky freshmen basketball stars Julius Randle and James Young have announced that they will enter the 2014 NBA draft. It’s one-and-done for the Wildcats. Randle is projected to be among the top five picks, which means he may earn $6.1 to $7.5 million over two years.

But many pro athletes have received a truckload of money, only to squander it. Terrell Owens, Allen Iverson and Antoine Walker are just a few who come to mind.

Sports Illustrated reported that by the time former NFL players have been retired for two years, 78 percent of them “have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.” Within five years of retirement, approximately 60 percent of former NBA players are broke.