“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
The statement above is the 13th amendment to the United States Constitution. Known as the amendment that freed the slaves, it states in simplest terms that no person in the United States should have to work under someone else without being compensated in some way. This article was ratified on December 6, 1865, and yet while slavery is still illegal in the United States today, there is still one institution that operates today under what people may deem modern slavery: college athletics
The National College Athletics Association (NCAA) was formed in 1910. Today the NCAA operates under the premise of pushing the values of receiving “free” education (depending on the type of scholarship) in hopes of setting their up student-athletes with a future in/beyond their respective sports. Over the course of “four years,” the student-athletes are supposed to learn to balance the burdens attending class, maintaining good grades, all while still performing at a high level in their respective sports.
Amateurism is a founding principle of the NCAA. Amateur sports are meant for participants entirely without money paid for their work or service. To them, preserving amateurism is vital to conserving an academic environment so that players will value the price of an education before anything else. The NCAA states “All student-athletes, including international students, are required to adhere to NCAA amateurism requirements to remain eligible for intercollegiate competition. In general, amateurism requirements do not allow: Salary for participating in athletics, prize money above actual and necessary expenses, and benefits from an agent or prospective agents.”
According to NCAA.org, the NCAA has 1,117 colleges and universities, 100 athletic conferences, and 40 affiliated sports and organizations. In 2017, NCAA brought in a record $1.1 Billion in total revenue for that year. The alarming issue isn’t the fact that the revenue is so high, but the fact that the players across the country weren’t able to receive any of this money. The only real payoff they are set to receive for the performances come from the payouts to the conferences and universities to upgrade facilities, something that a majority of the players will not get to experience in their tenures. Amateurism is dead in college sports because in every aspect of life, people are paid for their performances. This is modern slavery.
There have been many lawsuits filed against the NCAA for not trying to pay their players. These lawsuits have not gotten far as players are still not properly compensated for their performances. As Shaun King stated in his article on The Intercept, the NCAA has been able to win these cases based on the precedent of the legal case Vanskike v. Peters. The verdict outlined the fact that the 13th amendment mentions “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted,” allowing unpaid convict labor. This is wrong because in every aspect of American life, people are paid for their performances and talents.
Basketball is a sport, dominated by the African American race. A lot of these kids come from backgrounds of struggle and sports have become an outlet to escape some of the harsh realities they have to face. Ask any player at a young age what they want for their futures and most all answers will be to “make it to the next level.” As those young players get older and those dreams become more vivid, that answer usually changes into “to take care of my family.” The NCAA is just a stepping stone in order to sharpen your skills before you make the jump to the pros. However, when you take these young men and compare them to convicts or slaves, the question is raised as to how much do you actually care about them? If at all. Stan Van Gundy, Coach of the Detroit Pistons attacked the practices of the NCAA and their “one and done” for the NBA rule by stating:
“People that were against (players) coming out (of high school) made a lot of excuses, but I think a lot of it was racist. I’ve never heard anybody go up in arms about (minor-league baseball or hockey)”. They are not making big money and they’re white kids primarily and nobody has a problem. But all of a sudden you’ve got a black kid that wants to come out of high school and make millions. That’s a bad decision, but bypassing college to go play for $800 a month in minor-league baseball? That’s a fine decision? What the hell is going on?”
Many young men are realizing their worth to the NCAA. In basketball, it is rare to ever see a future lottery pick stay past his freshmen year. Ben Simmons was the number one high school recruit in the class of 2015. Most believed he possessed the skills to go straight to the NBA right out of high school. When asked about his few months at LSU, Simmons stated that he blames the NCAA for “wasting” his one year of college to attend classes. Simmons stated that after the basketball season, he wasn’t going to attend anymore classes because he “didn’t need to.” Coaches are not starting to realize the worth of these athletes to the NCAA as well. After the 2014-15 NCAA season, Kentucky coach, John Calipari took some heat after stating in an interview:
“Last year we started the season with a goal. You may think it was to win a national title or win all the games, [but] it was to get eight players drafted. Well, how can you be about your team if you’re worried about getting players drafted? We kind of work it the other way. What are your dreams? What are you looking for? What are you trying to get out of life? How can we help you with that?”
Coaches like Calipari have realized how corrupt the NCAA “business” has become. He’s made it his goal to get away from valuing the idea of a free education over the fact that these kids have a chance to make millions at a young age. He’s been able to prove his method by being the coach behind some of the big name players in the NBA throughout the years like Derrick Rose, Anthony Davis, Devon Booker, who all left school after their freshmen years.
It wasn’t until the 2017–18 NCAA Division I men’s basketball corruption scandal hit that people decided enough was enough for these young men. The scandal is a continuing corruption investigation by the FBI, at first involving sportswear manufacturer Adidas and a few college basketball programs associated with the brand. The scandal then eventually spread with more teams being involved outside of Adidas. The understanding is that coaches were being illegally funded by these brands and other top contributors in order to bring in some former and current top recruits around the country. As result of the investigation the NCAA chose to hand out a few suspensions to a number of the players and coaches mentioned in the ongoing investigation. But what it comes down to is the fact that the NCAA needs to evaluate themselves.
The fact of the matter is that if the NCAA were paying these players, then college coaches wouldn’t be pressured into having to illegally recruit. This scandal will hopefully backfire for the NCAA, especially after this March Madness season as total revenue numbers start to come out. In last year’s tournament, the NCAA brought in a lucrative $761 million strictly from the media. As the number is set to increase this season it is only a matter of time that players will look for other ways to get paid in their journey of trying to make millions in the NBA. It will take a lot of high profile athletes circumventing the NCAA in order to decrease revenue for them to change their approach about paying athletes.