If you are a sports fan, you’ve heard by now: Reggie Bush, running back for the Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints and former standout for USC, became the first player in history to voluntarily forfeit the coveted Heisman trophy. News emerged recently that Bush had accepted gifts while playing for USC. The NCAA subsequently declared that Bush was ineligible during his award-winning 2005 season because he had compromised his amateur status.
This case brings up questions about the meaning of “amateur” athletics, when one is speaking of Division I basketball and football programs, which produce hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for universities, and, oftentimes, multi-million-dollar salaries for head coaches. The players get none of this bounty. Sure, they typically get a free ride to college — something of no menial value with today’s high tuition rates. But, in reality, scholarship is a distant concern for many of the players at the highest level of collegiate sports. Considering their hard work, and the physical injuries they endure, why shouldn’t these players get paid?
Isn’t the idea of “amateur athletics” anachronistic in the context of such big-money sports? Why is it important that students remain amateurs anyway? Once upon a time, professional athletes were barred from the Olympics. But, eventually, well-funded national sports programs rendered nonsensical the romantic idea of the “amateur athlete.” Professional athletes were allowed to compete. And the Olympics seem to have survived just fine. I’d say, in fact, that they were better for it.
While there are good economic arguments to be made for paying college athletes, at least in Division I football and basketball programs (most other sports actually lose money), there are some critics of the current system who inevitably pull the race card. As it happens, a large percentage of top college athletes are black.
Witness Jason Whitlock, of FoxSports.com. Here are just a few of his sage comments on the Bush case:
If anything, the rule book supporting the bogus concept of “amateur athletics” is akin to the laws that supported Jim Crow, denied women suffrage and upheld slavery. . . .
Reggie Bush is Kunta Kinte, a runaway slave. The media are slave-catchers, mindless mercenaries crucifying child athletes for following the financial lead of their overseer coaches such as Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban. . . .
It’s a publicity stunt. Everyone is falling for it. It’s working so well that Nick $aban had the audacity to climb on his LSU-Dolphins-Alabama high horse and claim that the rules-breaking street agents are pimps. It takes one to know one, Nick “Mr. White Folks” Saban.
Looks like Mr. Whitlock has been taking racial-sensitivity lessons from Don Imus.