Why College Athletes Are Not Slaves

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In "The Shame of College Sports," Taylor Branch writes that the NCAA has "an unmistakable whiff of the plantation" and that student-athletes are denied their Constitutional right to due process. Agree or disagree?

How to Fix College Sports I agree. I can only imagine how the leaders who first commercialized collegiate sports drooled at the realization that there existed this unique business where the cost of labor, in terms of salary, was zero. The pairing of paternalism and exploitation is unsavory. The NCAA is not alone in this unsavory mix. For example, efforts to keep student-athletes from turning pro early are led by pro leagues and player unions. These are young (often adult) people still seeking older adult guidance, whether they admit to it or not. We should not ignore that there can be valuable consultation and rules that can assist in leading these young adults to rewarding lives. But, as in other sectors, too heavy a dose of paternalism can stunt maturation. Efforts should be focused on educating the student athletes about important issues and not in mandating the moves they must make.

The rules that exploit athletes do reek of colonialism, and colonialism is indeed a more apt characterization than slavery, even though athletes don't make money for their work. Colonialism was shrouded in, "Europe knows what's best for Africa, and by colonizing them we will guide their savage ways toward ours." In slavery there was only a rare pretense of enslavement being to the benefit of the slave. There is still a dominant belief that the current collegiate sports system protects young athletes. But Branch still delivers a little too much of the slavery analogy in his article (even after cautioning against it). Colonialism is, in its nuance, closer to reality, but even that language should be tempered as well.

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Kenneth Shropshire

Kenneth L. Shropshire is the David W. Hauck Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Faculty Director of its Wharton Sports Business Initiative. More

Kenneth L. Shropshire is the David W. Hauck Professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the Faculty Director of its Wharton Sports Business Initiative. He served as Chairman of the School's Legal Studies and Business Ethics department from 2000-2005. Shropshire joined the Wharton faculty in 1986 and specializes in sports business and law, sports and social impact, and negotiations.

The most recent of his eight books are Negotiate Like the Pros: A Top Sports Negotiator's Lessons for Making Deals, Building Relationships and Getting What You Want and Being Sugar Ray: The Life of America's Greatest Boxer and First Celebrity Athlete. His works include the foundational books, In Black and White: Race and Sports in America, The Business of Sports and The Business of Sports Agents.

His consulting roles have included a wide variety of projects including work for the NCAA, National Football League, and the United States Olympic Committee. In 2000 the mayor of Philadelphia appointed Shropshire to chair Philadelphia's stadium site selection committee and later, projects focused on future Philadelphia bids for the Olympic Games. He has also served for the past six years as the Academic Director of Wharton's Business Management and Entrepreneurship Program for NFL players focusing on their transition away from the game. He is currently an arbitrator for the NFLPA and USATF.

Shropshire was born in Los Angeles and attended Dorsey High School where he was an all city offensive lineman. While growing up in the Crenshaw area he played sports with and against the likes of future all pros Wendell Tyler, Butch Johnson, Wesley Walker, Marques Johnson and Rickey Bell. He is proud to have been inducted into the Dorsey High School Hall of Fame the same year as Shalamar's Jody Watley.
While earning an undergraduate degree in economics from Stanford University he was teammates with Tony Hill, James Lofton. He received his law degree from Columbia University, joined the firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg and Tunney in Los Angeles and later served as an executive with the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee led by Peter Ueberroth. There he was the staff person in charge of the boxing competition that included future world champion Evander Holyfield.

While in private practice he was the lawyer for a wide range of clients including the Comedy Act Theatre, the legendary black comedy club in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles that spawned greats like D.L. Hughley and the late Robin Harris. He was counsel to The Baseball Network, formed by legendary baseball players Willie Stargell, Frank Robinson and others to confront the racism that was finally surfaced following the comments by Al Campanis that blacks lacked the 'necessities' to manage in baseball.

His current research focuses on sport and social impact. He is particularly interested in how sport has been used to impact social conditions in the United States and around the globe. This research has taken him frequently to South Africa, where he focuses on the Royal Bafokeng Nation as well as Brazil and Jamaica.

He is a founder and member of the Board of Directors of the Valley Green Bank in Philadelphia. He also serves on the Board of Trustees of the Florida Coastal School of Law (a for profit law school), as a trustee of the Women's Sports Foundation, and the Board of Directors of Peace Players International. He is also a former president of the Sports Lawyers Association, the largest such organization in the world.
Shropshire has provided commentary for a number of media outlets including Nightline, CNN, the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio and Sports Illustrated.

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