NCAA Gives “Student-Athletes” a Run—Hit, Punt, or Dunk—for Their Money

Biases are something that we come across on a day-to-day basis. And I have to admit, that when it comes to athletics, my bias seems to be a little more obvious than other’s. While some of the world’s bias is imbedded through the ingenuity of creative, persuasive language, I prefer to let my opinion be known without any sort of censorship.

I can guarantee that if you ask almost anyone that knows me fairly well, they’ll inform you on just how adamant I am on the belief that sports and academics shouldn’t be combined.

When I was in high school, I wrote a 1,000-word opinion piece on the subject and felt that the depth of my research and solid persuasion skills would be enough to have the school board singing my praises and promoting athletics just a little bit less.

I was wrong.

When I heard our assignment was to read an article in the Atlantic about college athletics, I was intrigued. I realized that this article could either be a complete and total knife through my beliefs or perhaps, it’d be the evidence I’d been looking for all along.

Yet as I read Taylor Branch’s article, I found that his argument didn’t really do either.  When I had finished reading, I wasn’t compelled in either direction of the argument at hand.

The article, The Shame of College Sports, is an opinion piece that argues that college athletes should be paid for their work on the field, court, etc. While Branch spends a great length of time discussing the various components of his argument, there wasn’t a point where I was in total agreement with what he had to say.

I found the section entitled, “The Myth of the ‘Student-Athlete’” to be most compelling since I was able to relate to the situation.

The section commented on the ambiguity of the term “student-athlete.” Branch talked about the beliefs of separation between academics and athletics when he said that the fact, “that they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students meant they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies.”

This is something that has always bugged me about the combination of athletics and academics. While I understand that Branch is suggesting that this is a stereotype associated with the term “student-athlete” and it shouldn’t be perpetrated further, I ultimately disagree with him. Sure, these athletes are extremely talented and bring great sums of money to universities across the country. Yet to say that the name “student-athlete” brings upon too many myths, is a bit outrageous. If the term wasn’t used to describe them, then they’d simple be athletes. Their enrollment in a university or college is a unique descriptor that should be used regardless of any stereotypes surrounded by it.

The second part of Branch’s argument in this section, focuses on the article’s main issue: monetary compensation for the performances of athletes enrolled in college.  Branch begins to incorporate his opinions in as he discusses former Texas Christian University running back Kent Waldrep. After being paralyzed during a 1974 game against Alabama, Waldrep quickly lost financial support from TCU. He turned to the courtroom to file a lawsuit for workers’ compensation, which was ultimately denied in June of 2000.

The problem, says Branch, was that Waldrep was denied due to the university believing he was “recruited as an athlete, not a student.”

At this point of Branch’s article, I started to see his point. Waldrep was an athlete who played for TCU and got injured to the point where he could no longer work. Even though he was enrolled as a student at the university, he still brought TCU revenue. A university’s job is to educate students toward a degree and eventually a job.  If one of the university’s student is injured representing the school itself to the point where no amount of degrees will ever be able to get them a job, then it only seems fair for that student to be provided some sort of compensation.

The part of Branch’s argument I disagreed with, however, was the idea that student athletes should be given some sort of salary. His next section entitled “Whore-masters” focuses on this issue.

Branch mentions the millions of dollars involved in the industry. After providing evidence on the million-dollar salaries of head coaches, Branch focuses on the lives of the athletes. He uses Desmond Howard, a 1991 Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Michigan, to provide evidence for his argument.

“And you walk around and you can’t put gas in your car? You can’t even fly home to see your parents?” Howard said in a recent interview with USA Today.

Branch’s argument is solid. By the “rulebook,” he does his job as a journalist as he provides statistical data, quotes from players, and enough sentences to create an argument. Yet what I believe Branch lacks, is an ability to think about the life of a typical college student.

There are plenty of students that attend universities worldwide and can’t afford gasoline or flights home to their parents. I know that these athletes are part of a money-filled industry and they may feel as the moneymakers, they deserve a cut. But it’s my personal belief that scholarship money should be more than enough of a compensation. Athletic scholarships already provide them with something that the majority of students on campus don’t receive. I think it’s selfish to think they deserve to be paid in addition to the dollars they’re saving annually from tuition, when there’s students who aren’t athletes are working multiple jobs just to pay for their education.

While I still consider myself a pretty staunch advocate against the combination of academics and athletics, I think the article was an important read overall. Even though I think that Branch’s argument wasn’t necessarily the greatest thing ever, I think his reporting was solid and I enjoyed his writing style. He definitely made me reconsider any unsound biases I may have had as well as reinforcing some of the beliefs I had. I guess sometimes, we all just need to take a time out from our biases.

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