The University of Alabama Crimson Tide football team won its fourth national title in seven years under coach Nick Saban. For his part in winning the College Football Playoff (CFP) National championship, Saban is set to earn $525,000 in bonuses, which would bring his total 2015-16 season compensation to $7.5 million. Besides Saban’s massive paycheck, the CFP national championship game combined with the other bowl games will pay out in excess of $600 million to Division I schools and conferences. But the granddaddy of them all, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), a nonprofit organization, will make over one billion dollars for the season. In sum, the primary financial beneficiaries are the NCAA, TV networks, schools and conferences, and coaches.[1, 2]
If you are wondering why I did not include the 15,000 players in the list of financial beneficiaries, it is because those players did not earn one cent. Here is an interesting fact. “An estimated 90 percent of NCAA revenue comes from just 1 percent of the ‘stars,’ 90 percent of whom are black.” The significant overrepresentation of black student athletes means that the system has more players who will work for free while everyone else makes millions from their unpaid labor.
Can you recall any other time in the history of the United States of America where that many people labored year after year without the hope of compensation? You guessed correctly. It was during the 1500s-1800s when human chattel slavery was a legal institution in the US.
The similarities between the NCAA’s economics of slavery and oppression and Chattel Slavery are striking. First, like chattel slavery, the relationship between the NCAA and the players is not proceeded on the basis of equality. The slaveholder (the NCAA) has absolute sovereignty and power. Secondly, both institutions set the conditions under which slaves/players work and live. Since the slave masters own and control the means of production, they get to enrich themselves by extracting the greatest amount of labor from their slaves/players at the lowest possible cost.
Thirdly, slave owners are driven by wealth and power, which legitimizes in their minds the necessity of structuring an economic system that allocates and maintains resources at the top while denying access to those same resources to laborers/slaves/players. Fourthly, the master-slave relationship provides and reinforces the sociocultural context and model for social relations, social interactions and social hierarchy within the larger society. In other words, absolute control and power rest in the hands of whites and white-led institutions, i.e., white supremacy, and blacks should accept their role as subordinates. So, notwithstanding that blacks make up more than half of the total student-athlete population in division one schools and conferences, the majority of athletic administrators and coaches are white.
Over time, Both blacks and whites have accepted white power and black subordination as the norm.
This prevailing cultural milieu reinforces in the black youth’s mind that the highest level he should strive for is that of a professional player – an entertainer and consumer of goods. What is not mentioned however is that the black youth’s chances of making it to the pros is infinitesimal (less than 2%). Conversely, the white youth who also aspires to become a professional athlete has a plethora of options from which he can choose. The white power structure tells him, “If you do not make the cut as a professional player, you have the option of becoming a scout, equipment manager, trainer, director, coach, play-by-play announcer or commentator, sports writer, sports anchor, or athletic director.”
In essence, on a macrolevel, these imageries and stereotypes are quietly drilled into the American subconscious and over time both blacks and whites have accepted white power and black subordination as the norm.
What can be done to address the above-mentioned social disparity? There are those who suggest that student athletes should receive financial remuneration for their contribution on the field or court; meaning, the NCAA should threat student athletes like employees and pay them based on their talent. There are others who provide a less sophisticated solution, which says that players should compete solely for the love of the game.
But why stop there? We want to be inclusive, don’t we? Let’s also propose that administrators should administrate and coaches should coach for the love of the game. Here is the problem with that proposal. The morally bankrupt National Collegiate Athletic Association will never endorse that action as a possible solution.
The reality remains that the NCAA is a microcosm of the larger American society and culture whose underlying motivation is to: keep laborers in their place; use laborers for monetary gain; maintain the master-slave status quo; and perpetuate the system of white entitlement, white privilege and white supremacy.
- Yee, D.H. (2016). College sports exploits unpaid black athletes. But could they force a change. The Washington Post.
- Gibbs, L. (2016). Everyone is set to cash in on the national championship game, except the athletes playing in it. Think Progress.
- O’Rourke, P. (2014). College football and scholarship opportunities. Scholarship Stats.
- Jones, J. (2013). White supremacy’s long shadow: Why the myth of “race” still haunts America. Salon.
- Smith, D.T. (2014). Get your foot off my neck: The emancipation of the black college athlete. The Huffington Post.