Arguing Cause Final Draft Livia

The Exploitation of College Athletes

The exploitation of college athletes, particularly athletes in Division I men's basketball and football programs, has been an ongoing topic of controversy within America's higher education system for decades. This controversy is accentuated each year by football and basketball championships, when the public's disposition of outright madness is exposed and vigorously expressed. During these times in particular, revelations and expositions proliferate, censuring low graduation rates and the recruitment and commodification of young men and women solely for their athletic talent and potential (Branch).

A succession of scandals in recent years have made this depravity of college sports constant headline news. The public expresses outrage each time a story about a student-athlete taking money from under the table comes to surface. However, the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, where student-athletes produce billions of dollars for universities and private companies while receiving nothing in return (Branch). The power of the system to hold these athletes out for derision while presenting them as subjects of moral disgrace distorts the real transgression here. The conditions of the athletic scholarship and transfer rules, prohibitions against agents, limits on due process, failure to deliver on the promotion to educate, and the unobstructed selling of athletic images are just a few examples of the tools of exploitation that benefits college sports leaders while oppressing those who actually perform on the field/court (Staurowsky).

In order to fully understand this topic of controversy, one must know the meaning of the word "exploitation." According to Oxford Dictionaries, the term "exploitation" refers to the, "…action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work" ("Exploitation"). This term is commonly used when talking about the unfair treatment and underpayment of migrant workers, the manipulation of Earth's natural resources, and the mistreatment of children. It has not been used to refer to the corruption of college sports until recently due to the ever-increasing business of college athletics.

The mix of business and college sports makes this topic so controversial because both sides seem to have legitimate arguments. People who believe student-athletes are far from exploited support their argument by stating that college athletes receive scholarship money, elite training opportunities, student-assistance funds, academic and support services, medical care/insurance, and exposure/new experiences ("The Value of College Sports"). Others who believe student-athletes are definitely exploited combat these arguments by professing that athletes "work" a 50-60 hour week in training for their sport while having a relatively nonexistent social life, and experiencing immense pressure to perform at their best and obtain a certain degree of academic performance (Branch).

The first major counterargument deals with the fact that athletes receive scholarships that give them a virtually free education. In reality, very few student-athletes actually receive a full-ride scholarship that pays for their entire college stay (Staurowsky). Those who do not receive large scholarships are subject to the same financial struggles experienced by non-athlete students. Also, many schools take advantage of one-year athletic scholarships, which makes athlete vulnerable to dismissal if they do not perform at levels satisfying to their coaches (Staurowsky). There is no sort of compensation if an athlete is dismissed after one or two years due to coach-controlled decisions or if he/she suffers an injury and simply cannot perform (Staurowsky). An athlete's scholarship could be taken away without cause (Branch). For college athletes to be held to the terms and conditions of a one-year scholarship that have been established by the very authorities who financially benefit the most and leave the athletes involved voiceless in the process is a glaring conflict of interest (Branch).

The second major counterargument arising from the previous one deals with the belief that student-athletes get "paid back" with what they accomplish in their sport through their individual scholarships and a practically free college education when in fact, academic performance of college athletes has always been difficult for the NCAA to address (Waldron). From time to time, a scandal will expose extreme lapses in the college education system for student-athletes. For example, the 1989, Dexter Manley (then the famous "Secretary of Defense" for the NFL's Washington Redskins), teared up before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities, when admitting that he had been functionally illiterate in college (Branch).

Another issue branching off from this within big-time college athletic departments is the financial pressure to disregard obvious academic shortcomings and shortcuts. This points to the fact that a free education does not necessarily mean a legitimate education. For example, in the 1980s, Jan Kemp (an English instructor at the University of Georgia) publicly claimed that university officials had demoted and then fired her because she refused to raise grades in her remedial English courses (Branch). Based on documents, administrators replaced the grades she’d given to athlete with higher ones, affording fake passing grades on one prominent occasion to nine Bulldog football players who otherwise would have been ineligible in the 1982 Sugar Bowl (Branch). Despite public slander, Kemp filed a lawsuit. The jury in the case ended up in favor of Kemp and awarded her $2.6 million in damages. She exemplified what is allegedly the NCAA’s reason for being (to impose standards fairy and put studies above sports). However, no one from the organization ever spoke up on her behalf (Branch).

An additional more recent example happened in 2007 when Florida State Seminoles basketball forward, Al Thornton, completed a sports-psychology quiz but deserted it without posting his written answers by computer (Waldron). Brenda Monk, an academic tutor for the Seminoles at the time, says she noticed the error and asked a teammate to finish entering Thornton’s answers, as required for credit (Waldron). The teammate complied and then complained to the athletic office about the incident. Monk immediately resigned when questioned by FSU officials, claiming her fatigue at the time would not excuse her asking the teammate to submit answers to another student’s completed test (Waldron).

All of these examples pertaining to athletes not receiving a legitimate education points to the fact that the focus of college athletics is no longer on an athlete’s education and building a future, but making money off of their talent.

A third counterargument made deals with the claim that Division I student-athletes receive numerous opportunities of exposure to the public and are able to benefit from it. However, in order to be eligible for NCAA competition, athletes must sign what’s called the Student-Athlete Statement (Berfeld). Within this document, there’s a section that grants permission for the NCAA, member schools, conferences, and “a third party acting on behalf of the NCAA” to use an athlete’s name or image for promotions (Berfeld). Athlete’s effectively transfer the right to profit off their own image to the NCAA. Robert Givens, a law student who wrote an article about the economic exploitation of student-athletes by the NCAA in the UMKC Law Review, commented, “Essentially, for as long as you want to play for this school at the DI level, you cannot make any money for anything that is directly tied to your athletic achievements…All of these possibilities go away with your signing this agreement” (Berfeld).

The exploitation of college athletes has sky-rocketed in recent decades. Many causes could be linked to this increasing problem, but the most prominent cause is money. There’s no doubt that college athletics generates a lot of money. The NCAA makes billions of dollars selling the rights to televise games and selling merchandise and jerseys (Thomas). The Student-Athlete Statement athletes must sign in order to participate and maintain amateur status makes certain that virtually any financial gain from an athlete’s abilities, likeness, or name would go to the NCAA (Cline). The NCAA has athletes sign this contract supposedly to ensure athletes compete purely for the love of the game rather than for profit (Cline). Yet, the NCAA, its member institutions, and coaches are able to benefit greatly from the profit. According to an article published by USA Today, the highest-paid public employee in 40 states is a college football or basketball coach (Cline). They earn salaries that are in the millions per year and are able to earn even more through endorsement deals (Branch). By contrast, the athletes they coach, whose skill and talent are the very reason for the coaches’ fortunes, must sign away the right to earn any sort of income (Cline). Therefore, money plays a huge role in the exploitation of these athletes.

Student-athletes, particularly ones in DI programs, are obviously being exploited. Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the infamous article “The Shame of College Sports”, concluded, “For all the outrage, the real scandal is that two of the noble principles on which the NCAA justifies its existence—‘amateurism’ and the ‘student-athlete’—are cynical hoaxes; legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes” (Thomas). Whether or not college athlete are being exploited shouldn’t even be a question. The only concerning question is how society can correct this problem.

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