Aug 21, 2013, 12:06 PM EDT
Do you know what the foundation for amateurism is? Where it all started?
Back in the 1800s England’s uptight upper-class was quite competitive when it came to the sports that England’s uptight upper-class played in those days. As those sports became a bigger deal, men that worked as manual laborers and in factories wanted to compete. Given that they had spent their entire adult lives doing physical labor, the working class happened to be better athletes than England’s uptight upper-class that spent their afternoons drinking tea.
Some of those events had cash prizes. Some sports offered broken time payments, or cash to replace the lost income for taking the time to participate. England’s uptight upper-class didn’t like seeing their sports dominated by smelly working class folks, so they created amateurism in an attempt to purify the game, claiming their intent was to prevent maximizing profits from becoming the sporting ideal while, in all actuality, it was to keep those that couldn’t afford to play from playing.
Oxford and Cambridge picked it up. Harvard and Yale followed suit, and pretty soon, college athletics was built entirely around the classist ideals of England’s uptight upper-class.
At its soul, amateurism is an exclusionary principle.
It’s sole purpose is to prevent those that are good enough to be making money off of their ability from making money off of their ability, because capitalizing monetarily on one’s talent and hard work isn’t at all American. We’re a socialist nation, after all. Capitalism isn’t something we pride ourselves on.
Never before has the NCAA seen this much pushback against amateurism. If the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit isn’t scary enough, the NCAA seems to be getting embarrassed on a weekly basis by folks like Jay Bilas, who this month revealed proof that the NCAA was selling jerseys based on the likeness of their athletes.
Nothing has created as much attention, however, as Johnny Manziel and the Summer of Signatures.
Long story short, in the span of about three months, Manziel went from a redshirt freshman anonymous enough to be able to use a fake ID to the biggest name in college football. Fed up with the money that Texas A&M was making off of him, Manziel decided to start selling his autographs to memorabilia dealers, which is strictly against NCAA rules. All of this came to light at the end of an offseason that saw Manziel’s nationwide summer of partying get the kind of coverage normally reserved for Tim Tebow or Kim Kardashian.
In a vacuum, it seems crazy that Manziel cannot get paid to write his own name when the SEC’s massive TV deal is supported by players like Manziel, Texas A&M is receiving a reported $37 million in publicity thanks to his Heisman campaign, and the school is going things like auctioning off $20,000-a-plate charity dinners just for the right to break bread with their star QB.
And his college career is in jeopardy for pocketing a few thousand bucks for signatures?
I hate it. I hate everything about this rule, even if Manziel has reached a level of spoiled douche-itude that makes it tough for me to like the kid.
But in the real world, this probably doesn’t hurt Manziel, or any other star college athlete, all that much. The truth of the matter is that only a tiny percentage of student-athletes have any real market value — many of whom are football and men’s basketball players, and even then, it’s an overwhelming minority — and if you’re good enough that you would be able to profit off of your own likeness, chances are pretty good that someone has found a way to get some spending money into your pocket. Maybe it’s a booster keeping the team’s best players happy or an agent starting his recruitment early. Maybe it’s free bottle service at a club. Maybe it’s free tattoos or a no-show job or Ricky Roe duffel bags coming in at the start of every semester. I’ve heard enough stories to believe that the guys that are worth enough to get paid are getting paid.
I’m cynical, yes, but I genuinely believe that’s the truth.
Amateurism is wrong and exploitative, but it can’t hold back Adam Smith’s invisible hand.
The people that amateurism actually hurts are the real student-athletes that it is designed to benefit.
People like Jonathan Benjamin, a walk-on for Richmond’s basketball team. He was a motivated and bright marketing student looking to start his own clothing line, but he had to halt the advancement of his business because he took pictures of himself posing in the clothes that he created lest he risk being ruled ineligible.
Think about that.
How about Joel Bauman? He was a wrestler at Minnesota before giving up his scholarship so that he didn’t have to take his name and face out of the music that he was creating, because that violated NCAA rules.
A walk-on at Richmond and a wrestler at Minnesota.
I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
And it’s all so the NCAA doesn’t have to pay taxes. So schools can be the beneficiary of a booster’s check instead of the players. So that the money spent on donations for season tickets can be considered a tax write-off.
When you think about the concept of amateurism and who it’s actually hurting, don’t let a spoiled rich kid that’s a descendent of a Texas oil baron be the first face that comes to mind.
Think about all the kids like Jonathan Benjamin and Joel Bauman that are being forced to choose between playing a sport they love and trying to build a foundation for their future, which is kind of the point of being a college student, isn’t it?
Amateurism is forcing kids like Benjamin and Bauman to choose between being the student they want to be and the athlete they want to be.
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