All Players United: NCAA Athletes Take a Stand for Change

[College Sports] has just been a big charade for years. It’s about time for it to come to an end.”   —Arian Foster

This past weekend, Dick Vitale called Houston Texans All-Pro running back Arian Foster, one of the smartest people to ever put on shoulder pads, “a prostitute.” Foster’s great crime, according to Vitale, was telling the world that he received under-the-table payments while a player at the University of Tennessee.

This reveals less about Foster than it does about Vitale’s stunning lack of self-awareness. For thirty years, “Dickie V” has made himself extremely wealthy by being a carnival barker for the unpaid exploits of people like Arian Foster. We can ask the question: “If Foster is a prostitute, what in the world does that make Dick Vitale?” But instead, we should just marvel at how reflexively the people who benefit from the “charade” of amateurism defend their system. We should also ask the question, What would it take to actually end this charade once and for all?

I’ve come to the conclusion that the diseased power relationships in big-time, revenue-producing college sports will never change on their own. I once thought the scandals that take place with the consistency of a metronome would be enough to spur reform. But with comments like Vitale’s, it’s evermore clear that the system will never change on its own, because the weight of the injustice in the NCAA invariably falls on those with the least amount of agency. Those in power—and their media prizefighters—have never been doing better. When you make millions of dollars, you are not searching to change the status quo. You are only looking to calcify it.

The only social force in the sport with both an interest in change and the social power to do it is the athletes themselves. If the stars refused to take the field, then this ossified system would crack like an egg. This is one hell of an ask of a group of disproportionately poor 18–22-year-olds who want nothing more than a good report from their coaching staff to NFL and NBA scouts that they are “coachable” (obedient). As Richard Sherman can tell you, even the most talented prospective pros can be submarined by a head coach with a grudge. They are risking years of hard work, and it is nothing they asked for, but like Malvolio said in Twelfth Night, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” This past weekend, we saw players attempt to reach for this greatness, and their efforts demand our support.

A significant group of college football players taking the field on national television this past weekend, including Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee and Northwestern QB Kain Colter, wore the letters APU on their uniforms. No, they are not Simpsons enthusiasts. The letters stand for All Players United, and their coordinated action was put together by the National Collegiate Players Association. The NCPA is an organizing body fighting for very modest reforms, including greater medical coverage for head injuries, compensation for players if their names and faces are used to turn a buck, and scholarship renewals for incapacitated players so they can continue their education even if they cannot take the field.

As NCPA director and former college football player Ramogi Huma told USA Today, this idea to wear the letters APU came from a group of active players on the NCPA board trying to figure out a way to show solidarity with the current athletes who have joined the “O’Bannon Lawsuit” against EA Sports’ use of their likenesses in their video games.

“They came up with a way they felt comfortable to show unity. This is an effort, this is a call for players of all sports, anyone who supports players pursuit of basic protections,” said Huma. “I think the way they see it, guys write things on those areas all the time. Sometimes guys write biblical passages, some put area codes, just different things. It’s not anything different than what they’ve been doing, other than it’s the first time to make a statement to better their futures and their situations.”

As modest as this sounds, actions like this could be the start of something far more significant, because it signifies the overcoming of fear. When Arian Foster decided to go public, he said, “I feel like I shouldn’t have to run from the NCAA anymore. They’re like these big bullies. I’m not scared of them.” Foster and the players donning APU have decided to stop being afraid. In every social justice movement in human history, that’s always the first step.

The mountain is high, but a group of players are attempting to climb it in the face of a hostile bureaucracy, a largely indifferent public and adults-in-charge who use them with callous insistence on the status quo. They shouldn’t have to do it, but they are the only ones who can, and they deserve our unflinching solidarity.

11 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Scholarships

Most players get a full ride, that is excellent compension.

what?

You should at least read the article if you are going to comment Paul. If a player is injured, possibly crippled for life, on the field of play they do not get to finish their degree. No "free ride" as you call it. The other thing the APU is asking for is better medical services after injury, not monetary compensation. Young men and women risk their health and futures playing very dangerous sports as ESPN, Dick and his ilk rake in millions and they are just asking to get treated like human beings. How any one with an ounce of morality or human compassion could not understand this is beyond me. I have to believe that you either functionally illiterate, a sociopath, or just to stupid to understand what is happening. Either way you really need to stop posting your drivel and go back to reading red state, or the drudge report.

An obsevation...

I find it interesting Harva that you, and others who post here, are probably quick to call your selves "open minded", but since I have and post different views you are quick to tell me to go back to reading other sites and even make personal attacks on me.

I can see you are only "open minded" to people who agree with you. It has been interesting to post here and have open minded, liberal people make disparaging comments to me just because I disagree with them, have a different view point.

paul is right

This notion that college athletes are not paid is crazy. They are given free tuition, room and board. Do they make money for others Yes. SO do thousands of college students who have to work 2 jobs while going to school.

exploited

In no other field of work would people not demand getting paid for what they do.

They are being used, plain and simple. Free tuition cannot be banked or invested. And typically their education is not a priority at all...so they don't actually learn useuful skills.

They are being exploited but mulit-millionaire organizations - time to wake up people.

media

Why is the media all of a sudden taking such a sympathetic view towards college athletes? Every op-ed piece I read supports APU. Where were these op-eds when Maurice Clarrett was asserting his rights? I remember the media tearing him apart. Why the flip-flop? Who stands to make money off these athletes when they win their "economic rights"?

College should be free for all....

qualified applicants-- athletes and non-athletes alike. The exploitation of college athletes for the benefit of the media/educational complex is just another example of the corruption of capitalism. We have more than wealth to provide high quality public education to every American: "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom."
MLK
The college football players that are demanding just compensation are doing what all underpaid workers should be doing. They are fighting for their dignity.
"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."
Dr. Seuss

that is nonsense

' Free tuition cannot be banked or invested. And typically their education is not a priority at all...so they don't actually learn useful skills'

Free tuition gets them a free education. A free education can let them do a lot of things. If they choose not to learn anything useful, that is the fault of the student athlete.

It's a business contract, good and bad


"In no other field of work would people not demand getting paid for what they do."

Athlete renders a service, and in exchange may attend classes according to scholastic proficiency, eat at any campus food service facility, and reside on a campus. I admonish anybody who will listen not to call it "free" tuition, unless you feel that your employer gives you a free paycheck for working wherever you do, but an athletic scholarship is a business contract, a quid pro quo. The school doesn't compensate in the form of cash payment, but it does provide tuition, room, food, and use of campus facilities that would otherwise cost (at least) a year's worth of gainful employment for the average student's parent. For the athletes who actually generate revenue for their schools (i.e. football and in some cases men's basketball), it also provides a public audition for prospective employers. Between sports performance and a potential degree, the school may not give the athlete money, but it puts the athlete in a position to make future money.

"Free tuition cannot be banked or invested. And typically their education is not a priority at all...so they don't actually learn useuful skills."

It would also be taxed. All things considered, an athlete can be on campus for 4-5 years, which is enough time to complete a BA, and some post-bacc study. As demanding as some programs are of their athletes, game and practice obligations account for less than half the calendar year. As with any other scholarship, there are obligations to keep it, e.g. you may not get winter break like most other students. As for their educational priority, at least a few schools provide traveling tutors and individual academic counseling. Does a coach or athletic director have to walk each player to class to prove devotion to their education, or does the student have some responsibility to do that for himself?

"They are being exploited but mulit-millionaire organizations - time to wake up people."

There are 119 Division 1 football schools and about 3 times that in the basketball equivalent, and the BCS bowl contract, among other revenue outlets, isn't divided evenly among all member schools. People see a Notre Dame, which DOES make lots of money, but don't notice Ball State or Toledo, which...do not. While my experience with D1 programs is limited, having socialized and studied with football and basketball players at a major conference program, if they are being exploited, whither the condition of most other concurrent students?

The APU's proposals all look pretty reasonable, especially medical treatment that may be prohibitively expensive for them down the road, so I wish them well. But to think that the economic relationship between an collegiate athletic program and a player is all unilateral is not an honest argument.

Scholarships

Paul, a full ride may be excellent compensation but it's nowhere near to being proportional, especially at the huge schools. Think until it hurts.

Yes and no

I agree with the health benefits aspect of it. If someone gets injured the school should not be allowed to cancel their scholarship. However there Re two tactics no one has suggested. First instead of paying athletes lower the payment for coaches. For years athletic programs have trie dot argue that sports should count as a class. Then why not force programs to pay their coaches the same as the rest of the faculty? If the exhorbirant prices go down maybe some of the corruption goes with it. Second create a junior football and baseketball leagues like Canada has for hockey. Those that want to play for money while preparing themselves for draft play there those that don't want to make a mockery of the term student athlete go to NCAA.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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