NCAA Compares College Scholarship Athletes to Slave Labor

March 5, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

In a response to a lawsuit that asserts college “scholarship students who play sports are employees and deserve pay,” the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) claims that college athletes should not be paid because prisoners are not paid. You heard that right. The NCAA compares their athletes to prisoners.

The case against the NCAA is being brought by Lawrence “Poppy” Livers, who argues that “student-athletes who get scholarships should at least be paid as work-study students for the time they put in.” Many college students, as part of their financial aid package, are paid by the federal government for doing what is called “work-study,” working in a college department and paid for the hours they work, but also being able to study during those hours, if no work is available for them to do.

The NCAA’s defense is based in part on the 1992 case of Vanskike v. Peters, where Daniel Vanskike, a prisoner at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois, claimed that “as a prisoner he should be paid a federal minimum wage for his work.” The U.S. Supreme Court rejected his claim, saying in its decision, “The Thirteenth Amendment excludes convicted criminals from the prohibition of involuntary servitude, so prisoners may be required to work ... the Thirteenth Amendment’s specific exclusion of prisoner labor supports the idea that a prisoner performing required work for the prison is actually engaged in involuntary servitude, not employment.”

The NCAA is not only equating its athletes to prisoners, but by using the Supreme Court’s argument, the NCAA is saying they are slave labor!

Many of these athletes are Black and come from impoverished communities, where the only way they can afford a college education is by getting a full ride scholarship.

The vestiges of plantation slavery of “involuntary servitude” are a foundation of the current U.S. system of mass incarceration and its racial component of white supremacy. The NCAA’s argument has put them in the camp of those who continue to uphold slavery and white supremacy.

A Whiff of the Plantation

Think it’s “extreme” to say this about the NCAA? The two college sports that generate the most money, by far, are football and men’s basketball. College sports programs that these athletes play for generate billions of dollars. The Intercept reported that “In 2015, the top programs made a combined $9.1 billion.” Fifty-seven percent of athletes at Division One football programs are Black. At most of the top teams the percentage is higher.

The University of Alabama team has been national champions more than any other in recent years. 80 percent of the starters on last season’s team, which won the national title again, are Black. Their coach, who is white, makes $11 million a year, by far the most of any state official in Alabama. The next four highest paid University of Alabama employees are also all white. The players don’t make a cent.

As historian Taylor Branch said of college football, there is “an unmistakable whiff of the plantation” about it.

This past week, LeBron James called the NCAA “corrupt.” He said, “I do know what five-star athletes bring to a campus, both in basketball and football. I know how much these college coaches get paid. I know how much these colleges are gaining off these kids. ... I’ve always heard the narrative that they get a free education, but you guys are not bringing me on campus to get an education, you guys are bringing me on it to help you get to a Final Four or to a national championship...”

Scholarship athletes are permitted to hold an outside job as long as they are not being paid due to their athletic ability or as publicity for their employer. However, the rigors of playing college athletics and going to school means most do not have time for a job.

Jay Bilas, who played basketball for Duke and is now an ESPN analyst, told Business Insider in 2016: “The only student in college that is subject to a wage restriction is an athlete.” Bilas has also said that college athletes are being “exploited” by the colleges.

Several professional athletes have advocated for paying college athletes. Kevin Durant of the Golden State Warriors said this week, “You want these players to go out and play on the biggest stage ... and they don’t get a dime for it … I don’t think it’s right. They go out there, and they slave for these programs, to go out there and win a championship to bring a good vibe to these programs.”

March Madness (the NCAA national basketball championships for men and women) starts in less than two weeks. There will be talk during the tournament about college athletes being paid by sports agents and college coaches. But will anyone call out the NCAA for comparing their players with prisoners and slave labor?




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