Shabazz Napier’s claim that sometimes he and his fellow UConn athletes go to bed hungry due to not having an income to live off of in college has caused widespread debate over the unionization and payment of collegiate athletes nationwide. This past March students at Northwestern University in Illinois petitioned for recognition as employees of the school and an ability to unionize. The goal of this petition was to seek better medical coverage, concussion testing, and the possibility of being paid. Shabazz himself is a supporter of the petition and has been cited as calling the legislation “kind of great” (Ganim). The biggest thing that is being critiqued and scrutinized in the entire debate is the NCAA, the big corporation controlling collegiate athletics. The debate that has come up reminds me greatly of that which we saw in the beginning of class with the controversy between NFL players and the company itself. The NCAA is the NFL of college and, just its professional counterpart, is stirring up controversy due to players’ conditions. Shabazz’s comment about going to bed starving was a startling and harrowing insight into the difficulties that many collegiate athletes face. While they may be receiving scholarships to attend the school, tuition is far from the only cost of a college education.
Civil rights historian Taylor Branch attended a national convention of campus athletic directors and addressed the claims of “amateurism” as the reasoning behind not paying college athletes: “Imagine this: suppose the university were to say we’re going to have amateurism for all the students on our campus, so we can be consistent. And that means that you can’t get a job at the campus bookstore if you’re an undergraduate, that you can’t be paid as a teaching assistant if you’re a graduate student. You’re an amateur” (Hruby). Thinking about it this way, not paying college athletes seems incredibly unfair. While agree that there are a number of confounding factors to take into consideration in this debate, Branch’s comments are not ridiculous. Many students, especially those in college on considerable scholarships, require jobs to supplement their income (or lack thereof) at school. By denying the athletes the ability to be paid for their service to the school, the colleges are preventing them from having this extra (or only) income. This is especially important given the time that they devote to their sport and their team, which would make it impossible to hold a job, on or off campus, during the season.
This is not to say that college athletes should walk away with the six-figure paychecks seen in the NFL, NBA, and other professional athletics associations. Shabazz himself states, “I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving,” (Ganim). To say that they are being reimbursed enough by their college scholarships is like denying the validity of the entire enterprise of Federal Work Study. Many, if not all, of the students receiving Federal Work Study are also receiving scholarships from the federal government and specific institution. However, this is often not enough, because, as mentioned previously, tuition is far from being the only expense students face in college. Although going about determining what to pay students for their college athletics would be incredibly difficult, it is something that more than just one school in country should be looking into doing.
Ganim, Sara. http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/07/us/ncaa-basketball-finals-shabazz-napier-hungry/
Ganim, Sara. http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/26/us/northwestern-football-union/index.html?iref=allsearch
Hruby, Patrick. http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/61573892/