Hello! And welcome to another edition of Inside The Newsroom. Today’s guest is… Lindsay Gibbs, sports writer and author or the Power Plays newsletter. Lindsay was a writer for Think Progress covering injustices in sport, but after Think Progress was shut down a couple of months ago, she decided to branch out on her own and start the newsletter. Lindsay has been invaluable in her reporting on women in sports, so much so that even Hope Solo is a fan. Unfortunately, our audio was lost to the interwebs, so there’ll be no podcast today. Still, below is a post-game analysis of everything we talked about and more. Next week I’ll have Jamil Smith on the pod, senior writer at Rolling Stone covering politics and culture. Enjoy 🤓 ⚽️ 🏀
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The NCAA Is Being Forced To Act
California governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill in September that will allow college athletes in his state to make money off of their names, images and likeliness from 2023. It’s a momentous move that will change the landscape of college sports for generations to come. Now that California is the first state to speak out against the NCAA through its legislature, at least a dozen other states are considering following suit. Forced to do something, the NCAA announced last week that it will consider allowing athletes to make money off their name. As Lindsay described, the announcement is being interpreted as “setting up a committee to talk about setting up a committee to talk about discussing the issue.”
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How the Northwestern Football Union Nearly Came To Be
For decades, college athletes have tried to get paid, but each attempt to do so has been thwarted. The closest almost-bid came in 2015 when the Northwestern football team came inches away from forming an official union, but the National Labor Relations Board failed to climb on board. The NLRB initially ruled that the team could unionize, but ended up reversing its decision. Still, all of the hard work wasn’t for nothing: The Big Ten conference announced that it would improve medical insurance for its athletes and guarantee multiyear scholarships. And its impact on the national debate cannot be quantified in helping push the needle forward, making California’s bill all the more easier.
Individual States Save the Day, Again
A recurring theme has popped up over several newsletters I’ve written over the past few months. Whether it’s fighting the climate crisis, protecting our privacy from creepy technology companies or ending the opioid epidemic, it’s been individual states that have stepped up to the plate. And now we can add allowing college athletes to make some money to the list of bipartisan legislation that is set to sweep through locally, while very little gets done at the federal level. On a side note, call me boring but I can see clearly why so many people from both sides of the aisle are fed up with the folks in Washington.
Anyway, with the likes of Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and South Carolina already proposing bills in their respective statewide legislatures, the writing appears to be on the wall for the NCAA and you can expect to see athletes actually getting payed for their work in the next few years.
What Does All This Mean For Female Athletes?
Thank God we have Lindsay to contextualize what all of this means for women. Here’s an excerpt from her newsletter on the issue:
Perhaps you’ve heard pundits fear-mongering over the years that ending amateurism in the NCAA will signal the death of Title IX, and I’m here to tell you, that is not true. (I give a full breakdown of why in this ThinkProgress piece.)
Do not fight to save this current exploitative system in order to protect women’s sports. In fact, ending amateurism can be viewed as a women’s rights issue, too.
Women have far fewer opportunities in the sports world once their college athletic days have ended, so stripping away their rights and money-making opportunities during college is particularly damaging.
Should Black Athletes Leave White Colleges?
Racism is sewn into the roots of all of this. In the NCAA’s three largest revenue generating sports — football, men’s and women’s basketball — the majority of athletes are black. Before money in college sports exploded — the NCAA reported $1.1 billion for the 2017 fiscal year — student athletes could achieve Hall of Fame status from Historically Black Colleges and Universities. In Basketball, Willis Reed from Grambling State in ‘64; Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, from Winston-Salem State in ‘67; and football greats Walter Payton from Jackson State in ‘75; and Jerry Rice from Mississippi Valley State in ‘84.
These days you’ll struggle to see someone from an HBCU even make the pros. That’s because the glitz, the glamour and the better opportunities to make money after graduation are so much greater at the top Division 1 schools like Alabama and North Carolina.
Because profit from college sports have never been higher for everyone except the athletes, it’s the athletes themselves that have never had so much power and leverage. Jemele Hill argues that if a group of elite black college football and basketball players decided to collectively attend solely HBCUs instead, then this would be another way to force the NCAA to budge from its archaic position.
Defending the Indefensible: Amateurism
NCAA President Mark Emmert has long defended the notion of amateurism in college sports, partly because he was paid $3.9 million for the 2018 academic year. But even if he does truly believe in the power of college sports contributing toward higher education, that many schools would leave the NCAA if athletes were paid and that many other smaller sports would be forced to be cut, it shouldn’t be the status quo that no college athlete gets paid. In no other industry or profession is this the case, whereby a workforce works for free to prop up the fortunes of others. That shit ended back in 1865.
How Do Americans Feel?
Paying college athletes isn’t really a controversial issue anymore. A recent poll conducted after Newsom signed the bill in California showed that 60 percent of Americans are in favor of paying college athletes, versus 32 percent against the idea. And among students, 53 percent are in favor of compensating college athletes.
#46 — Christine Brennan (USA Today, CNN) on the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s fight for equal pay
#39 — Henry Abbott (TrueHoop) on uncovering scandals in basketball