Hypocrisy?

The talk these days on the sports shows — at least the ones I watch — is all about the NCAA rule that athletes in college may soon be allowed to get paid for the use of their image for promotional purposes. This follows the state of California which not long ago ruled that athletes in college should be allowed to be paid to play. Several other states have followed and the NCAA is in a panic that the whole thing will mushroom and they will lose their preeminent place at the center of collegiate sports — as they see it.

In any event, I wrote many years ago about the hypocrisy involved in intercollegiate athletics (at the Division I level) where it is clear that the vast majority of those who play football and men’s and women’s basketball (at least) are not in college to get an education but to prove themselves worthy of recruitment into the professional ranks. It’s a proving ground on which the vast majority falls down and is quickly forgotten, sad to say.

In any event, the rationale I now hear for paying these kids to play in college is that they now receive “nothing” and are exploited by greedy universities. This is a half-truth. The players are clearly exploited (and the colleges are indeed greedy businesses trying to turn a profit), but very few in the world we all live in are not exploited. Be that as it may, the athletes certainly do not play for nothing. They get free tuition, room, board, and books (which they may or may not read, but they can certainly sell them back to the university or used book stores). And that’s a helluva lot of money these days. Just ask the struggling non-athlete. And I hesitate to mention the money and perks athletes now get “under the table” which go largely unnoticed.

(Just an aside: I recall years ago when the make-believe line between amateur and professional was still being bandied about about in tennis, as it is now by the NCAA which is  nothing of not delusional.  Roy Emerson was asked why he didn’t turn professional and he said he couldn’t afford to. He was making too much money as an “amateur.”)

I return to my argument, however, because it’s all about honesty. Let’s honestly admit that the majority of Division I athletes are using collegiate sports as a platform on which to display their talents. They are not students in any sense of that term. Given the drop-out rates, the failure to graduate rates, the constant bombardment of news about cheating on papers in their classes, and the like, let’s stop calling most of these people “student-athletes.”  As I said long ago, they SHOULD be paid as would any other semi-professional athlete. And then those few who want to actually attend classes and get an education (or what passes for education these days) should pay for it just like any other student. At the very least they would become aware of the incredible amount those who went before them were “paid” in the form of free tuition, room, and board.

As I said then and I say again: it’s simply more honest. The NCAA has opened the door and it will be thrown wide open very soon. But the reasons for that opening are all wrong and still sustain the myth of the student-athlete which at the Division I level in the sports mentioned above is pure fiction. They are not students unless they choose to be so and as semi-professional athletes they should be paid what they are worth — as determined by the demands of the “marketplace.”

Going For Olympic Gold

In its wisdom, the International Olympic Committee recently decided to drop wrestling from its “core sports” group. Wrestling will now have to vie with seven other sports for a single spot on the 2020 Olympics — and the betting is wrestling will not make it in. And the even safer bet is it’s all about money. So what else is new?

Wrestling, which goes back  to the first “modern” Olympics in 1896 in Athens — and almost certainly dates back to the games played by warring city-states in ancient Greece –will be replaced by (wait for it) GOLF! That’s right, the game that requires grace, quickness, agility, and strength will be replaced by a game for middle-aged Republicans. I exaggerate, of course: one of the professional golfers who is eligible to compete for this country in the Olympics is a Democrat — or so we are told. But it is also true that some of those who will compete will have problems lining up their putts because of the large gut that obtrudes. Is it just me, or does this whole thing seem almost sacrilegious?

In any event, this is clearly a sign of the times when money trumps tradition and long-time wrestling coach Vic Stanley, who commented on the recent decision, is surely correct in saying that the Committee is simply “following the money.” It’s a trend that started when the I.O.C. decided to drop altogether the distinction between amateur and professional — admitting, sadly, that it was a distinction without a difference as so many countries were paying the athletes and keeping them apart from the ordinary athletes in the lap of luxury. It was the same problems the tennis world had many years ago when they dropped the distinction and “opened” tennis to all players. It seems the “amateurs” like Roy Emerson were making more money than the professionals — under the table, of course.

So Pandora’s box was opened and we now have professional athletes making millions of dollars playing games year-round who compete for an Olympic medal — and a bit of money under the table as well. Nothing comes for free and jingoism is the rule of the day: how many medals do we have, Pop? Do we have the most, huh? There are very few nooks left where we can find the true amateur: the athlete who plays for the pure love of sport. Professionalism has filtered down even into the ranks of the children in Little League and Pop Warner football where parents hassle their kids over losses and corporate sponsors stand by with a check book looking for the latest talent. The answer is not to play with no score and no winners or losers (that’s downright dishonest and the kids know it) but to simply keep the money out of it. Sadly, I suspect, that ship has sailed.