The University of Michigan football team has a storied tradition when it comes to winning. The program is equally storied when it comes to making money by putting athletes on the field no matter what. This football factory rivals the other bastion of athletic exploitation down the road: my alma mater, The Ohio State University.
It was recently unearthed that The University of Michigan has been using “optional” practices as a way to push athletes against their will. Players and their families have reported that any athlete who doesn’t attend the “optional” practices has a strong likelihood of being punished by the team.
I have just one question: why is anyone surprised? The only thing surprising to me about the University of Michigan case is that someone is actually willing to testify against the university. I am simply stunned that the players are bold enough to stand up for their rights in light of the fact that there are extreme penalties for athletes who have the audacity to think for themselves.
For college athletes, loyalty to the NCAA is not a choice. The officials who run college sports serve as the judge, jury and executioner in all cases related to athletic conduct. Like Michael Vick’s pit bulls, athletes within the NCAA system are domesticated, indoctrinated and brainwashed from the minute they set foot on a college campus.
The same way that many major retailers look the other way when five year olds are employed in third-world factories, the NCAA doesn’t do a very good job of enforcing the standards within its very own rulebooks. The only standards that seem to be applied strictly are those that keep the athletes and their families away from the multi-billion dollar revenue-generating machine that pays for the massive salaries of college football coaches. This is nothing less than a slap in the face to the players and their families, who give so much on the field.
U. Michigan’s coach, Rich Rodriguez, earns over $2 million dollars per year, while his athletes, the young men risking life and limb on the field, are only paid with a scholarship. Their labor rights have been stolen by illegal collusion between the NCAA and Congress, and they are not protected from the stressful practice schedule, which precludes their ability to be regular college students.
One can hardly blame Michigan Coach Rodriguez for pushing the players too hard, since universities make it clear that winning percentages matter far more than graduation rates. The University of Kentucky’s decision to pay nearly $30 million dollars to John Calipari, a coach known for both corruption and a lack of academic integrity, sends a message about the importance of winning games over educating athletes.
We know that corruption rolls down hills and at the bottom of this pile are the players, their families and the entire African-American community. NCAA athletes in revenue- generating sports are typically kept in special dormitories, forced to live on rigorous athletic schedules, and pushed to place football ahead of everything else. All the while, the administrators on central campus, as educated as they are, turn themselves into unenlightened blind mice when confronted with the reality of athletic exploitation.
How ironic it is that American universities, which claim to be bastions of equality and social advancement, maintain the closest thing to slavery in our society other than the prison system? Is it not equally ironic that The University of Michigan, an institution that fought the Supreme Court to protect affirmative action, earns millions from the restriction of labor rights of African-American families?
Chris Webber, a former basketball player for The University of Michigan, once noted that he didn’t have the money to buy a cheeseburger in McDonalds. He then went across the street and saw his jersey on sale for an astronomical price. His image had been borrowed from him by the university, and they were profiting from it. Years later, when it was unearthed that he’d received money from a booster during college, everyone thought Webber was the bad guy. Somehow, we’ve all become convinced that college athletes don’t deserve to have access to a free labor market like the rest of us.
Massive reform is needed not only within the Michigan football program, but also within all of college sports. Congress must step in and challenge the NCAA for anti-trust violations, as well as its tax-exempt status. NCAA revenues during March madness rival that of the NFL and NBA, so it’s time to note the NCAA for what it truly is: a professional sports league that artificially restricts the wages of its employees. Anyone who studies this arcane business model and finds this method of operation to be acceptable is obviously naïve. This includes the scholars, coaches and administrators at The University of Michigan.