College-sports fans have generally become desensitized to the cognitive dissonances of the NCAA’s amateurism policies. The rules, which prevent the payment of cash or other “extra benefits” to student athletes or their families, are necessary to retain the purity of amateur competition, according to the association. Without such restrictions, supporters argue, NCAA sports would devolve into just another minor league of professional sports, with capitalism becoming the athletes’ sole driving source of loyalty to their university. These guidelines usually operate in the public consciousness as a low hum—background noise that doesn’t distract from the compelling sporting events that audiences allow themselves to enjoy. But every now and then, the humming erupts into a roar. And in those moments, viewers are forced to confront the system they have embraced. Odell Beckham Jr. delivered one of those moments last week.
Beckham, the wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, who played for Louisiana State University, was unsurprisingly excited to watch his alma mater challenge Clemson University in the national championship game on January 13. He was so excited, in fact, that he ran onto the field after LSU won and began congratulating the team. With the cameras rolling, Beckham made a big show of pulling money out of a fanny pack and stuffing wads of cash into the LSU players’ hands. Later, when he was in their locker room, Beckham bragged on social media that he would recoup the money he had handed out simply by selling the cleats of one of LSU’s top players.