By Kellen Bulger
If you go to the NCAA’s website, they have a section where they outline the term “amateurism”. The webpage starts by stating “Amateur competition is a bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA”.
Why is a word that you’re more likely to find as the difficulty level in a video game, then used in everyday life, or let alone a multi-billion-dollar company’s mission statement, the “bedrock” of an organization? That’s because, plain and simple, the concept of amateurism is what keeps the money rolling in.
I have participated in collegiate athletics for two-years now and I love it. I love that I have the chance to run in races with sub-four minute milers from the University of Oregon. I love that I get to represent a little liberal-arts school in Salem at places ranging from rural Wisconsin, all the way to southern California. I feel a part of something bigger than myself. In spite of all the things that a singular sport has brought me, from my best friends in life to a college education—this is not always the reality for myself and hundreds of thousands of other young-adults across the country.
“No I don’t think college athletes are given enough time to really take advantage of the free education that they’re given. I would love for a regular student to have a student-athlete’s schedule during the season for just one quarter or one semester and show me how you balance that. Show me how you would schedule your classes when you can’t schedule classes from 2-to-6 o’clock on any given day”
The All-Pro Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman opened up at the Super Bowl media day and went on to describe his struggles as a student-athlete while at Stanford, “….those aren’t the things that people focus on when talking about student-athletes. They are upset when a student-athlete says they need a little cash. Well, I can tell you from my experience, I had negative 40 bucks in my account. Usually my account was in the negative more than it was in the positive. You’ve got to make decisions on whether you get gas for your car or whether you get a meal for the day. You’ve got one of two choices.”
Sherman is right. No, it’s not enough to just be thankful to colleges for funneling down a halfway decent scholarship to many previously impoverished, disenfranchised young athletes. Like much of our country at the current moment, college athletics is one of the grossest examples of income-inequality there is. In thirty-nine out of the fifty states in the U.S. the highest paid public-employee is either a college football or basketball head coach. Meanwhile, even the slightest suggestion that there is an imbalance of power drives the most powerful reservations from the wrinkly, white, middle-aged executives at the top of the NCAA. Maybe it’s the Nike carbon fiber helmets sported on Saturdays, maybe it’s the million-dollar locker rooms that the beaten bodies of these super-human “amateurs” retreat into. Whatever it is, much of the general public and executives at the top alike, think that NCAA athletes should be “unbelievably grateful” for the opportunities that are presented to them.
When I came to Willamette from high-school I felt as though I earned something when I became an athlete on the cross-country and track teams. Up to the moment in which I first put the directions to 900 State Street on my phone and ventured down to Willamette, I had run over 3,500 miles in my high-school running career. I battled severe injuries ranging from a stress fracture to becoming manically depressed, largely as a result of struggling to being able to maintain this perfect balance between the athletics that would hopefully propel me to the schools of my dreams and the academics that would be the foundation for the rest of my life. I missed out on parties, I missed out on school dances, I woke up at 5:30 am for parts of the year to train in utter blackness and 10 degree temperatures. I did all of this, and I am still only a Division III athlete.
So, here’s my call to those who question why we’d ever pay athletes: Imagine what it must be like for a young-athlete whose entire family depends on his/her collective ability to put a ball in a basket or run a lap on a track quickly, in order to effectively mobilize in our deeply flawed American society. And yet, you still scoff at the absolute audacity of athletes like Shabazz Napier and their want to not have “hungry nights” over the course of their collegiate seasons.
This is not a fun, alternative way of me saying that I’m too busy because of college athletics. I find no pleasure in having to qualify my critiques of a multi-billion-dollar institution in the NCAA through my own personal struggles. The chance that I have to continue doing something I love, while pursuing a quality education is something that I am very grateful for. However, when we see current and former NBA players like Emmanuel Mudiay and Brandon Jennings, who were both highly recruited by the best college programs, signing European basketball contracts out of high school just because of the sheer impracticality of having to spend one year in the NCAA—there’s a flaw in the system.
The idea of college athletes being “amateurs” needs to die.
Just in 2017, nearly twenty NCAA athletes broke the four-minute barrier in the mile. This is a feat that was thought to be literally humanly impossible a half-century ago and now you have kids in college breaking four minutes in the mile on Saturday and taking an engineering midterm on Monday. With nutrition and athletic ability progressing to where it is presently, to call our current collection of NCAA competitors “amateurs” is not only demeaning, but patently false.
Dictionary.com defines amateur as “a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons”
Pleasure you say? Let’s look at NBA All-Star and recent retiree Caron Butler. Butler, was placed in solitary confinement for selling crack-cocaine and was responsible for a newborn child all while being only 15-years-old. After turning his life around and being released from jail, Butler became the first person in his family to attend a four-year university after receiving a scholarship offer from the University of Connecticut. I bet if you ask him if he was playing basketball at the time simply for the “pleasure” of it, he’d have a very different answer for you.
The NCAA calls amateurism the “bedrock” in which everything relies upon. Maybe so, but this bedrock is one that is riddled with the broken down bodies of high school athletes that could have been as well as the former and active bodies of college athletes who continue to carry the $10.8-billion-dollar organization on its back while living below the poverty line and getting yelled at by coaches whose hair gel costs more than their athlete’s monthly grocery budget.