The debate over paying college athletes for their hard work jhust got kicked up another notch. Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar just went public with supporting the idea of letting players form their own unions.
Jabbar wrote an op-ed for Time Magazine about the criticism over letting players unionize in the wake of the Northwestern University football team’s huge legal victory and the subsequent debate in the wake of the NCAA’s continued stubbornness to even consider the issue. He mocked the belief that just allowing players to form a union would lead to an America filled with cities that would “crumble to nothing more than shoddy tents stitched together from tattered remnants of Old Glory.” He did a nice job of calling out the NCAA’s heavy handed way of addressing such questions and those players as well as their hypocritical method of not paying players for actually doing the work while they reap all of the benefits.
In reality, what makes college sports such a powerful symbol in our culture is that they represent our attempt to impose fairness on an otherwise unfair world. Fair play, sportsmanship, and good-natured rivalry are lofty goals to live by. By treating the athletes like indentured servants, we’re tarnishing that symbol and reducing college sports to just another exploitation of workers, no better than a sweat shop.
Abdul-Jabbar went even further with his description of the college sports system. He flat out called it “child abuse.”
We adore and revere them. They represent the fantasy of our children achieving success and being popular. Watching them play with such enthusiasm and energy for nothing more than school pride is the distillation of pure Hope for the Future.
But strip away the rose-colored glasses and we’re left with a subtle but insidious form of child abuse.
The NCAA will probably ignore Abdul-Jabbar’s statements just like it’s done with anyone who has tried to call them out because they believe the best way to avoid a growing controversy is to just ignore in the hopes that it will go away. The sad part is it will probably work for a little while and things will stay the same at least for the time being.