Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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NBA icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put pen to paper and made a case for why college athletes should be paid. In a 1,300-word essay published in Jacobin magazine, Abdul-Jabbar spoke firsthand about his experiences as a basketball player at UCLA and described how he could barely rub two pennies together on most days.

“Despite the hours I put in every day, practicing, learning plays, and traveling around the country to play games, and despite the millions of dollars our team generated for UCLA—both in cash and in recruiting students to attend the university—I was always too broke to do much but study, practice, and play,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.

He also explained why he sympathized with those college athletes who found themselves breaking a few rules just to earn an extra buck: “I never personally encountered any players who cheated or shaved points, but I could see why some resorted to illegally working an extra job or accepting monetary gifts in order to get by.”

Abdul-Jabbar zeroed in on the athletic scholarships that athletes received and how they were different from academic scholarships. If an athlete breaks his or her leg and is unable to play, the athletic scholarship can be taken away.

“Players who are seriously injured could technically make use of the NCAA’s catastrophic injury relief,” he noted before going in for the jugular: “This sounds fair and compassionate, except the policy doesn’t apply unless the medical expenses exceed $90,000—which most claims don’t. If the student’s medical bills are $80,000, they’re on the hook for it themselves."

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Also, he writes, students with academic scholarships can use that money toward tuition, housing and books and then, when all of that is paid in full, use the rest of the money however the student likes, for entertainment purposes, for instance. That’s not the case for athletic scholarships, Abdul-Jabbar explains. Every penny must be used “only toward tuition, room and board, and required books.”

Plus, Abdul-Jabbar noted that “millionaire coaches are allowed to go out and earn extra money outside their contracts” and players cannot.

Abdul-Jabbar writes, “We still have to be vigilant against all forms of exploitation so that by condoning one form, we don’t implicitly condone others. Which is why, in the name of fairness, we must bring an end to the indentured servitude of college athletes and start paying them what they are worth.”

Read more at Jacobin.