Why College Athletes Are Not Slaves


AP Images

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.