Exploitation Without Representation

By Dr. Boyce Watkins, BASN Contributor
Updated: August 11, 2009

NCAA NEW YORK (BASN) — The revolution has been televised.

I always knew it would be, since African American athletes have always been center stage in the NCAA’s multi-billion dollar money machine. Millions of Americans go mad during the month of March to see “Tyrone G. Anyhood”, the latest corporate product being lined up on the Great American assembly line of mass exploitation and academic fraud.

The NCAA has profited handsomely from the black community’s commitment to producing and delivering hoop dreams that put young black men on the court during the hours they should be spending in a book.

We perform death-defying athletic circus acts for the amusement of America, while universities profit under the guise of providing education. The NCAA’s professional sports league has created hundreds of multimillionaires and has facilitated the purchase of summer homes, yachts and private planes for many of the fat old men who refuse to even hire African American coaches.

Some of the players have finally said, “enough.”

Ed O’Bannon, a former star for the UCLA Bruins, has put his name at the top of an historic class-action lawsuit being filed against the NCAA for the illegal use of player images in video games.

This lawsuit is significant and opens a Pandora’s Box of disturbing issues, like a maid charged with cleaning out a house with dead bodies and asbestos. To make things simple, here are just a few reasons the suit may actually end up having massive implications for the African American community:

First, it sets a precedent. If the players win this lawsuit, it will call into question the NCAA’s practices, which I believe violate anti-trust law. It is my hope that Attorney General Eric Holder will help the public to understand that by being able to restrict mobility of labor and trade, the NCAA is allowed to operate in a manner that would be illegal in nearly any other industry in America. Secondly, the tax-exempt status of the NCAA would be called into question as well.

The NCAA is very good at convincing the public that collegiate athletics is nothing more than an extracurricular service being provided to enhance the lives of little bookworms who barely remember to go to practice.

Anyone who has taught on a college campus knows that student athletes are forced to endure the rigors of professional athletes and spend dozens of hours each week going to practice and missing class for road trips.

This is hardly the life of an amateur and top coaches push the athletes to earn every penny of their $20 million dollar contracts. As a result, the NCAA earns more during its post-season than the NFL and the NBA earn in their respective playoffs, including the Super Bowl.

Secondly, the attorneys in the lawsuit have the power to win. The lawyers filing the suit seemed to be licking their chops when they saw the egregious violations of anti-trust law alleged against the NCAA.

It is my hope that we finally become intelligent enough to use the courts as a path to remedy this grave injustice to the families of African American athletes. The idea that the coach can live in luxury while the star player’s mother is in poverty is nothing less than shameful.

We’ve even been convinced that it is somehow scandalous and unethical when a player’s family gets a mere fraction of the revenue being generated by the athlete on the basketball court.

When I participated in a CBS Sports special during March Madness, the question being asked was whether or not college athletes should be paid. I was surprised that the same network that paid $6 billion dollars for TV rights to March Madness would host a show that questions the operating practices of its economic empire.

So, as the special went on and on about how it is clearly “impossible” for the NCAA to share its revenue with the players, I noticed one interesting fact: Every single person on the show arguing that athletes shouldn’t get paid was earning at least half a million dollars per year off the backs of those very same athletes.

If there were ever a visual representation of the word “hypocrisy,” it would be Billy Packer, a millionaire commentator on college sports, explaining why athletes shouldn’t get paid for their labor.

The same way that Dr. Harry Edwards called for the Olympic protests of black athletes in 1968, we should call for the athletes of 2009 to stand up for their families: Demand the education you are being denied, demand the compensation your families deserve, demand the labor rights you should have as Americans.

This lawsuit sends a clear message that the second-class citizenship of African American athletes will no longer be tolerated.