At the 1987 Orange Bowl, Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth, who at the time was serving a suspension for a positive steroid test, stood on the OU sideline sporting a T-shirt that rendered the letters “NCAA” as an acronym for “National Communists Against Athletes.”
Sure, the Boz was ultimately a cartoon character and failed NFLer who is best remembered for being trucked by Bo Jackson on Monday Night Football, but on that occasion, his T-shirt tapped into a larger zeitgeist. Nothing brings people together like contempt for the NCAA.
In an era marked by division and discord, our nation briefly came together this week to dunk on an organization built on exploiting an entire underclass while producing nothing of value itself — and in this case, I don’t mean the U.S. government.
In a unanimous 9-0 ruling, the Supreme Court declared that the NCAA is running afoul of antitrust laws in restricting compensation for student-athletes. Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion, stating that “to the extent [the NCAA] means to propose a sort of judicially ordained immunity from the terms of the Sherman Act for its restraints of trade—that we should overlook its restrictions because they happen to fall at the intersection of higher education, sports, and money—we cannot agree.”
But it was Brett Kavanaugh’s fiery concurrence that has garnered the most attention. He wrote: “The bottom line is that the NCAA and its member colleges are suppressing the pay of student athletes who collectively generate billions of dollars in revenues for colleges every year. Those enormous sums of money flow to seemingly everyone except the student athletes. College presidents, athletic directors, coaches, conference commissioners, and NCAA executives take in six- and seven-figure salaries. Colleges build lavish new facilities. But the student athletes who generate the revenues, many of whom are African American and from lower-income backgrounds, end up with little or nothing.”
That’ll leave a mark. And it should.
The nation joined the court in a nearly unanimous rebuke of the NCAA. Twitter, usually a cesspit of division and hatred, rejoiced in unison (with the organization’s representatives providing a lonely voice of dissent). Liberals who had condemned Kavanaugh a year and a half ago as a sexual assaulter hailed his opinion, even as they couched their praise in terms of a stopped clock, blind pig, etc.
Commentator Jay Bilas, a college athlete himself and a lawyer by training, has long been one of the NCAA’s harshest and most eloquent critics. He tweeted: “Hey NCAA: If you’re constantly in litigation over your restrictive policies on athlete compensation, perhaps the athletes are not the problem. Perhaps your policies are the problem. Perhaps you should change them to allow athletes the same economic rights as everyone else.”
And further: “Athletes having economic rights isn’t ‘chaos.’ It’s just business. The NCAA’s intentional inaction makes it seem chaotic. This is multi-billion dollar industry, and athletes deserve to participate in it. It’s a civil rights issue.”
As is often the case, the South Park guys — modern-day prophets and heralds of societal decline — had long since nailed the ongoing absurdity of the NCAA business model with their 2011 episode “Crack Baby Athletic Association” in which Cartman dons the attire of an antebellum slave owner and seeks information from the University of Colorado president on how to exploit the image and likeness of unpaid labor. The episode also depicts the head of EA Sports, a co-conspirator in the NCAA’s corrupt exploitation racket, as a cigar-chomping plantation owner.
I had long maintained that a four-year scholarship accompanied by free room and board constituted significant payment to student-athletes, and that simply caving to the demands of a vocal minority and treating football players as employees violated the spirit of intercollegiate athletics. But that was naïve thinking.
I’ve come to see the entire NCAA model as a metaphor for our corrupt age: A cabal of do-nothing oligarchs buoyed by a bloated bureaucracy prospers, while the producers are exploited.
It may prove to be a mere speed bump on the highway to hell that the country is currently barreling down, but the fact that the court and the nation as a whole have come together to reject this line of thinking has filled me with that rarest of feelings: hope.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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