I watched the tail end of the NCAA championship in college football. The University of Alabama Crimson Tide won their first national championship under current head coach Nick Saban. One of the final graphics of the big show was most telling: Nick Saban’s salary is roughly $4 million dollars per year, with half million dollar bonuses for winning bowl games and championships. He, like other coaches, is allowed to bring his entire family, the dog, the maid, and everyone else to the bowl games with box seats if he chooses to do so. That’s not even the beginning of all the really good perks.
All the while, Nick Saban’s star player, Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, was giving “big ups” to his father in prison. His mother was in the stands, likely paying for her own ticket, since the NCAA doesn’t allow universities to finance trips for player families (even those who bring in millions to the league, like Ingram). Coach Saban, for sitting on the sidelines, goes home with an extra half million in his pocket. The NCAA earns at least another $20 million or so from ad revenue and signs multi-billion dollar TV rights deals. For risking their lives on the football field, the University of Alabama players go home with a Nintendo Wii, a camcorder, a hat, a piece of jewelry and a few really cool memories.
I get disgusted when I see two southern teams in the NCAA championship, mainly because the literacy and graduation rates for these players tend to be among the worst in the nation. In 2006, both the Alabama and Texas football programs were ranked #204 and #216 in graduation rates relative to other universities – so the players are not even getting the educations they were promised, since their football schedules are so rigorous. I once recall an NFL recruiter telling me that one of the graduating players could not even spell the word “Tennessee” on his job application. The NCAA remains the ultimate plantation, with a group of riled up black men being led by wealthy white male plantation owners: coaches, corporate executives, athletic directors and commentators. Sure all the players aren’t black, but nearly all of the people making money from the players are white. Yes, this is a remnant of slavery, when the plantation owners used to hold big fights and let the biggest slaves on each team get together to fight each other for plantation pride. Alabama was the winning plantation last night, and the players don’t even know that they were the ones being played.
The NCAA extracts over a billion dollars per year from the black community and earns income on par with the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball. Mothers of athletes are left to starve or get evicted from their homes, while we have a nation of laws that legislates the stripping of athlete labor rights to the benefit of coaches, athletic directors and corporations. Players are fed a ridiculous dream of going to the NFL, which turns into a life of busted joints, steroid use, 25-year old retirement and financial misery. Even the players who make it to the NFL have very short careers and are left realizing that they were used like $2 dollar prostitutes by the college athletic machine that chews them up and spits them out by the boatload. It is after the exploitation is over that former athletes become resentful and find out that the system was never designed for them to succeed in the first place. It was never designed for them to get an education, and it was never designed for them to be empowered – a pimp doesn’t want his hookers to be intelligent or bold – he wants them to do what they are told. The NCAA , through its strict rules and serious punishments for violation, effectively keeps the “pimp hand” cocked for any athlete that tries to break out of their multi-billion dollar revenue machine. Yes, there is a system of very deliberate laws and rules holding the wealth extraction together, and you can’t exploit another group this much by accident.
It’s time for black men to stand up and be better than this. That is why I founded ALARM – The Athlete Liberation and Academic Reform Movement: It’s a movement for athletes to become intellectually enlightened and to claim their rightful voice in American society. I hope you will consider joining us.