Occupy March madness



Mellaneoussquare“We are protesting because we believe that institutions of higher learning like FAU have the responsibility to stand up to the systemic racism, corruption and human rights violations that define the prison-for-profit system, and advocate instead for equality and human rights,” wrote a group at Florida Atlantic University.

When students at Florida Atlantic University recently penned the letter containing the quote listed above in an effort to stand up to their administration and demand that the university reconsider naming their stadium after the private for-profit prison corporation GEO Group, it gave me an idea. Why not protest the NCAA and its rip off of so-called student athletes?

I couldn’t help but see the similarity in the private prison industry and the NCAA. Failed sports stars often run afoul of the law and many of them wind up on prison plantations after having spent their time on another plantation — college sports.

I can’t help but wonder why people don’t get together and protest the plantation that is the NCAA. Besides the problem of what has been termed the New Jim Crow, the problem of the mass incarceration of Black youth in particular, I can’t think of anything else that cries out to be protested. While the rip off that is the NCAA is not as drastic as having one’s freedom denied, it is the next worst thing in a society in which people have a reasonable expectation to be compensated for their labor.

The time to protest and picket and expose this sham for what it is has been long overdue. It would seem that people would be tired of seeing their children ripped off and mistreated. But every year, like powerless sheep, we deliver our children to be sheared.

The NCAA basketball tournament which brings in billions in TV revenue alone — popularly known to most folks as March Madness — would be an ideal place to start. And it is indeed aptly named because it is madness that such an unfair, unbalanced and unethical system continues to exist.

And of course it’s a plantation. Everyone is making money. And I mean everyone associated with college athletic programs is getting paid, from the coaches to the secretaries. But the workers that produce real value are given scholarships.

But are they really given a fair chance to get a real education? Judging from what most athletes have said about their regimen to prepare for their sport they really have to hustle to get their assignments in and to really get a “real” education. And when you examine that college education story closer, you realize there are no guarantees.

When young people sign on the dotted line they are only doing so for one year at a time. That’s right, colleges can drop student-athletes after a year. If the player doesn’t perform as well as expected, the college can send that player packing, no explanations given.

Another disturbing part of the relationship between the college and the so-called student athlete is that the college is not bound to cover the medical bills of young people who are injured and can no longer perform. It is probably assumed by most college sports fans that injured players are taken care of by the university. But that is only the case if the kid has potential to come back and play. Student athletes that are injured are sometimes cut and left on their own to pay their medical expenses.

At best they are not getting the entire college experience; they kind of rush through it while trying to excel at their particular sport. This is particularly true of the major sports of football, and basketball, the majority of which are Black. And obviously there is no way to guarantee a degree to the student athletes who trade their body for the hopes of future professional success or a sheepskin.

Ironically, the plantation motif seems even more appropriate when one considers that the major sports financially support the minor sports like tennis, swimming and golf that field predominantly White teams.

But help may be on the way in the form of the National College Players Association (NCPA). Last fall, hundreds of Division I college athletes at primarily five schools signed an NCPA petition calling on the NCAA to implement reforms such as “using new TV revenues to improve compensation and create an ‘educational lockbox’ that would reward players who graduate; allowing multi-year scholarships; and establishing that athletic injuries should not end athletes’ scholarships or leave them paying for their own medical treatment.”

The NCAA conundrum is an example of how when you combine power to enforce rules with the desire to make money, you can make something that is absolutely unfair somehow fair and reasonable.


Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to mreeves@spokesman-recorder.com.