Unions Rising: Tom Ziller and David Roth Hit Us With Some Truth About the NCAA

Tom Ziller‘s SB Nation critique of the right-wing pro-NCAA lobby is on point. Hypocrisy has never been so transparent as it is in the words of anyone who defends the NCAA’s out-moded system of indentured servitude. “Student-Athletes” my tuchus.

The 10 Worst Lines From Sally Jenkins Abysmal Hit Piece on the Northwestern Union Ruling,

SB Nation, March 30, 2014

by Tom Ziller

Sally Jenkins, renowned hot sports take artist at The Washington Postpenned her Sunday column on a National Labor Relations Board decision this week to grant Northwestern University football players the right to unionize. Patrick Vint did a great job breaking down what the ruling actually means, and what’s next. Jenkins, on the contrary, lit reason on fire.

But the upside is that she and her sources gave us some memorably hideous quotes about the whole thing.

1. Occupy Northwestern

It’s hard to view Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter as the Che Guevara of college sports once you learn that he interned at Goldman Sachs.

Because unions are only for poor people, right?

In fact, one of the more refreshing things about Colter’s role in the movement is that he has an obviously prosperous future (like most Northwestern alumni) and still feels a duty to challenge an unfair system. Kind of like, you know, a well-to-do Argentine named Che who went to medical school before becoming outraged at the unfair system around him.

2. All that valuable “stuff”

Colter and his peers aren’t laborers due compensation; they are highly privileged scholarship winners who get a lot of valuable stuff for free.

Ooh, what kind of stuff?

This includes first-rate training in the habits of high achievement, cool gear, unlimited academic tutoring for gratis and world-class medical care that no one else has access to.

Oh. So …

a. something they could get from the self-help section at the library
b. stuff they can’t sell without incurring the wrath of the NCAA investigators
c. something all college students basically get
d. doctors to fix injuries suffered making the university money

Cool stuff. Can you buy a loaf of bread with any of it?

3. Revenge of specious

“I think sometimes we take rights to a whole new level,” [Tom] Izzo said. ” . . . I think there’s a process in rights. And you earn that.”

I want to believe that Izzo was grossly misquoted, because holy hell, did he just say you have to earn your rights? If he wasn’t misquoted or taken completely out of context, man, that explains a lot.

Dear Izzo: you don’t have to earn rights.Rights are what you’re due. They are what you have, uh, a right to by virtue of being a member of civil society. You don’t have toearn the right to be treated fairly. I consider Tom Izzo to be one of the paragons of virtue in basketball, legitimately. But that statement right there, if that’s really what he said and meant — “I think there’s a process in rights. And you earn that” — is straight out of the Jim Crow South.

Tom Izzo, by the way, made $4.9 million this year.

4. #ThanksObama

“I said to my guys, ‘There’s a reason you have to be 35 to be president.’ That’s the way I look at it.”

Another banger from Izzo. “You have to be 35 to be president, and you can only get paid in tuition and medical care if you’re a college athlete. It’s in the Constitution.” The reason you have to be 35 to be president is because it’s in the danged Constitution! The reason you can’t get paid while playing for Tom Izzo is because the NCAA cabal has declared it so. I’m sensing different levels of authority here.

5. What college kids want

College athletes enroll at their institutions to mature. Whatever their end goals, pro aspirations or workloads, they are no different from any other students in that respect. They are there to develop emotionally, intellectually and physically, and that’s all a school owes them, no matter how much revenue is generated by Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M.

Football players can’t enter the NFL until they’ve been out of high school for three years. College is basically the only option. Basketball players have to be out of high school for one year. There are options, but they have not been competitive to the college experience. Still, most of the highest-profile third-year football players and first-year basketball players move to the pros at their first opportunity.

So tell me Sally: are they there to develop emotionally, intellectually and physically, or are they there biding their time and boosting their stock before they get paid? If they are there only to develop emotionally, intellectually and physically, why isn’t Andrew Wiggins sticking around for a couple more years?

6. The Stanford women’s tennis player

If Kain Colter is an exploited laborer, then is a female tennis player at Stanford an exploited laborer, too? Is a lacrosse player at Virginia an exploited laborer? Is a rower at Harvard?

I actually don’t know if Stanford tennis players, Wahoo laxxers or Harvard rowers are exploited. Chances are that their universities are not making money on their account, if that’s what you’re asking. Texas A&M definitely made money off of Johnny Manziel. But shutting athletes out of the profits isn’t the only way athletes can be exploited. Unions don’t just bargain pay raises. They also advocate for better working conditions, a more fair grievance or arbitration system and the like. It’d sure be nice if athletes outside the big two sports, too, were able to collectively advocate for an improved system.

7. Fear change. Always.

[19 questions about how the system would work if the unionization effort continues]

One can only imagine the conniptions Sally Jenkins would have had when Curt Flood wrote to Bowie Kuhn in 1969. “Wait, so players can just decide where to play?”

8. Rewriting history

What about transfer rules? If players are employees, then can they simply quit? At the end of a game can they cross the field and ask for a job from the opposing coach?

Yes, who will think of the coaches when it comes to the transfer rule?!

To read the rest of Ziller’s piece, click here: http://www.sbnation.com/2014/3/30/5563522/northwestern-union-sally-jenkins-column-hot-sports-take


In a related piece on the real fears of the NCAA and Amateurism, read David Roth‘s excellent take:

The NCAA is Afraid or Real Amateurism,

SB Nation, March 27, 2014

by David Roth

March is a tough one. There is the NCAA Tournament, which is — despite the dense, ambient stink coming off those first four letters — one of the most blissfully overwhelming and blessedly human sports experiences to be had on earth.

And then, sucking around the edges of every transcendent moment, is the NCAA itself: unconvincingly advertising its own puffed-up merit during commercial breaks, congratulating itself on another year of success in soft-palmed handshakes in executive suites, and generally getting paid.

The basketball is great, and has an emotional throw-weight unlike anything else, but the context is the context. That’s March.

And now there’s the National Labor Relations Board ruling that football players at Northwestern University can be designated as employees, and as such are entitled to unionize and bargain collectively with the university. Northwestern is not happy abut this. The NCAA isn’t, either, but naturally elected to express its unhappiness in the smarmed-out language of “disappointment.”

This March, we don’t just get to feel weird about enjoying the NCAA’s brazen profiteering off the unparalleled product its athletes produce. We also get to have terrible, willfully point-missing conversations about amateurism on social media.

What you see, right there, is someone who talks about college basketball on television — and also played college basketball when Bill Clinton was President — being corrected by someone who played football at the University of Missouri just a few years ago. Moe, for his part, is not sure that “a union is the way to handle it” where this particular issue is concerned, which is not surprising. Most people, after more than a generation of effectively un-rebutted anti-labor noise, don’t really know what unions do, but suspect that it is generally bad and broadly anti-competitive and faintly communistic.

That is why the NCAA is attempting to leverage popular distrust of unions as a way of wriggling out of the obligations created by the NLRB ruling. What that ruling found, in effect, is that college football players were effectively employees of the schools in which they’re enrolled. This is because the players spend some 50 hours a week on football-related activities, are expected to conform to extraordinary restrictions such as draconian speech and conduct codes and otherwise adhere to standards that do not apply to other students.

The crux of it, which very few are eager to dispute beyond legalisms and Herculean feats of blinkered sentimentality, is that student-athletes are held to a significantly different standard than student non-athletes, to the point where they become something less like students and something more like employees who are compensated for their work with (highly contingent and incomplete) tuition reimbursement.

The nascent union at Northwestern wants to be able to bargain as employees, and its goals are almost poignantly modest. Not annual salaries or performance bonuses or training table room service, but enhanced concussion protocols, a dedicated fund to help players earn their degrees and financial assistance for ex-players who suffered injuries while playing/working with the team. (As employees, they would also have rights under Illinois’ worker’s comp laws, although that would require a separate ruling.) This is all patently and intentionally not extreme.

This, along with athletic scholarships that run for four years, is not something to which most people who care about college sports would object. It is, maybe, something to which even Northwestern, which is a generally forward-thinking school in a liberal state’s leftmost metropolitan area, would not object.

The problem, to hear the NCAA and Northwestern talk about it, is with the way of addressing it. “Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students,” the school said in its statement. “Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes.”

It’s easy to see what they’re objecting to, and why. The same, with all requisite cynicism and NCAA-ness factored in, applies to the NCAA’s position. But there is, under all that cynical calculation, a compromise that would mitigate much of the disputed territory in this non-conversation. It happens to be an objective good, too, which is nice. What if amateurism, as the NCAA understands and dictates it, was just a little bit less despicable?

To read the rest, click here: http://www.sbnation.com/college-football/2014/3/27/5551074/ncaa-players-union-northwestern-amateurism


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