I also favor CAPA’s goal of securing additional compensation beyond what the typical athletic scholarship provides: tuition, room and board, books and school fees. Northwestern football players, many of whom live off campus after their sophomore year, receive a stipend of $1,200 to $1,500 monthly. This amount is not enough for most of the student athletes living in Evanston — rent alone, without utilities, can range from $700 to $900 for someone living with a roommate. Without additional financial backing from parents, a good number of elite college athletes, who do not have time to take second jobs, live below the poverty line.
Each year the NCAA generates more money, administrators live comfortably and coaches get paid more and more — some as much as $7 million a year — while athletes and their families struggle to make do during college, let alone after their careers are over. The mother of one of my ex-teammates came to only one of his games in his four-year career because she could not afford to buy a plane ticket to see him play. Such injustice has only gotten worse. Not only has the NCAA not updated its bylaws to offer better financial support to its amateur student athletes, it has more strictly prohibited its athletes from supporting themselves outside of playing for their institutions. For instance, former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, now in the NFL, felt the need to barter his Big Ten championship ring to get a tattoo he wanted. The NCAA suspended him for five games the following season for his action but allowed him to play in the all-important BCS bowl game that year. (Such is the hypocrisy of the NCAA.) None of Pryor’s critics felt the need to ask why a star quarterback generating millions of dollars for his university and the NCAA would need to pawn a ring for a simple tat.
The NCAA has enough money to extend medical protections for injured athletes, it has enough to provide the full cost of attending college and it has the ability next year to change a couple of its ridiculous bylaws that deny college athletes the rights of their nonathletic college peers: the ability to enter the free market and profit off their talents and likenesses. Every college student in America has that ability except athletes under the NCAA. It is time to give players a fair share and allow them to negotiate what they deserve. The formation of a union is the first step. Without a collective voice, college athletes can expect that 10, 20 or even 40 years from now, the NCAA will continue to repeat the same canards about amateurism, because it’s too invested in profit motives to do what is just.
While we begin our fight, I’d like you to do something. The next time you watch a college game, ask yourself: Should I really be supporting this system that exploits players who give their all on the field for my enjoyment? Am I OK with seeing athletes injured, knowing that they may not receive medical care after their careers are over? If not, please voice your support for the union drive. Thank you.
Jeffrey W.C. Yarbrough