The NCAA is finally being confronted about it’s exploitation of college athletes. A San Francisco court has allowed a federal lawsuit to continue, one that has massive implications for the multi-billion dollar sports empire known as the NCAA. The suit was filed by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon, and involves the illegal use of athlete images in videogames and advertisements. O’Bannon saw that even after he’d finished playing college basketball, not only did he not make very much money in the NBA, but the NCAA continued to make millions from his image. This doesn’t include the tens of millions it earned when he helped sell tickets, jerseys and TV rights while starring for UCLA. The many millions earned from his labor and presence far outstrip the cost of UCLA tuition. If the exchange were fair, then they should have let him earn a market salary and pay his own tuition.
The suit threatens to force the NCAA to start giving athletes the same labor rights that the rest of us have as Americans. For some reason, we all decided that the families of college athletes should only get a scholarship, while we allow coaches to have private jets, massive mansions and $30 million dollar contracts. To add insult to injury, this is all taking place without the players even getting a very good education. Some coaches, like The University of Kentucky’s John Calipari, have relatively low graduation rates, but continue to be employed by campuses who are claiming to trade education for basketball. I have been on a college campus for the last 20 years, and I can tell you that this alleged trade-off is highly misleading.
This outcome of this lawsuit will be interesting, and it has very broad implications for the African American community. Many black families live in poverty while athletes earn billions for the NCAA. In fact, the NCAA earns more money from March Madness than the World Series and the Super Bowl. Miley Cyrus can earn $70 million dollars from her work as a teenager, but for some reason, some feel it inappropriate for a 20-year old athlete to be properly compensated for his labor. It is also ironic that there are age limits for the NBA and NFL (sports dominated by black athletes), but no such limits in tennis, golf and baseball (sports that are frequented by white athletes). It’s time for this system to change and for Congress to step in and reconsider the NCAA’s anti-trust exemption. What’s most amazing about the NCAA is that they also don’t have to pay taxes, which is a multi-billion dollar revenue concession given every year by a government carrying massive amounts of debt.
The great scam of the 21st century must be forced to come to an end, and perhaps this lawsuit can be the first step. I’ll be waiting, watching and hoping for the liberation of the black male athlete.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the Athlete Liberation and Academic Reform Movement (ALARM). To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.