Pay Up, Colleges, and Stop Exploiting Your ‘Student-Athletes’

Of course college athletes are exploited. The question is, 'What do we do about it?'

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After her third knee surgery, the Syracuse specialist told her that if she wanted to be able to walk without a cane and play with her kids in the future, she had to stop playing basketball. She was devastated, because as athletes, we are programmed to run through walls, ignore pain and never quit. But after much convincing from the people who cared about her—mostly her mother—Nichole made the right decision.

Her coaches weren’t pleased, however, and she actually had to get a lawyer and threaten to sue the school in order to keep her scholarship her senior year.

If their main concern was education, this wouldn’t have happened. The bottom line is that it’s a business. When you play Division I sports, you’re not treated as a “student-athlete”—as colleges love to profess to the world—you’re an athlete-student, and you’re there for one reason and one reason only. You can keep your grades up enough to remain eligible, but then again, that’s only so you can be able to play—and earn more money for the university.

But naysayers will tell you things along the lines of “universities are dedicated to every student-athlete’s academic development” or that “paying college athletes would devalue universities and discredit student-athletes as scholars.”

If you believe anything like that, though, I have some magic beans that you’d probably be interested in buying as well.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch—Martin Luther King Jr.’s biographer—looked at the state of affairs in college sports and could come to only one conclusion: “For all the outrage, the real scandal is that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence—‘amateurism’ and the ‘student-athlete’—are cynical hoaxes; legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes.”

Thus, the argument against paying college athletes is quickly exposed as one of the most hypocritical, self-serving positions in modern sports. Whether or not college athletes are actually being exploited shouldn’t even be a question. The only question is how we can rectify this problem.

Etan Thomas is an NBA veteran and the author of Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge. Follow him on Twitter.

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