The HBO special Student Athlete, which was produced by Lebron James, attempted to show how the NCAA exploits athletes, making millions upon millions of dollars, while the athletes primarily just receive a scholarship. While I find it reprehensible that the NCAA prohibits it's athletes from profiting financially from their star status, I believe that the athletes that were featured in the film, although compelling, were not portrayed in ways that clearly showed that the NCAA exploited them. However, watching and listening to those athletes should help drive home to parents, the importance of impressing upon their kids from an early age, the importance of academics, as it appeared that each athlete featured was on a "make it to the pros or bust" mission, with no real Plan B. The pity is, that athletes with this type of mindset, even if they make it to the pros, typically will not end up being financially successful anyway.
College football and basketball at the elite level, have exploded into a hugely profitable business. With all the money being made by the NCAA nowadays, and with the public seeing the money spent on highly paid coaches and state of the art facilities, the unfairness becomes more and more obvious, as the key figures, the athletes, are prohibited from capitalizing on their status to try to gain some measure of financial stability for themselves and their family. FYI - there are legal ways that college athletes can get paid. Conspicuously absent from this list, however; is allowing the athlete to use his/her most valuable asset, their status as star athletes, as the NCAA's rule says "an athlete may establish a business only if his or her name, photo, appearance or athletic reputation are not used to promote the business."
How can the NCAA justify the lavishness of many of it's facilities, which to a large extent are meant to attract star athletes, which in turn are meant to please and entertain the fans, which in turn will lead to big money for the NCAA; while at the same time making it against the rules for athletes to use that same star status to try to help provide for their families the basics that many of us take for granted, ie, food and a decent place to live. Intentionally solidifying the position in our social class structure occupied by the athletes and their families by limiting the athletes wealth and power is distinctly un-American! There is a lawsuit pending that challenges the NCAA's amateurism rules. Court cases have a way of dragging on and on, but this is so unfair and immoral that something has got to change for the better in a significant way at some point.
It doesn't offend me that the college athletes aren't paid a regular salary. Many athletes and their families have had their eyes on the goal of playing big time college ball for a long time. They attend the showcases, camps, combines, tournaments, play for travel teams, AAU teams, promote their highlight video, etc..., all toward the end of achieving that goal of playing on the big stage. What I feel is indefensible, once again; is for the NCAA to deny the athletes the rights as human beings and American citizens, to on their own time and with their own efforts, to promote themselves apart from the college and the college team, to attempt to profit from their talent and present popularity, just as the college is benefitting! If a salary is paid, my fear is that it will end up being some relatively insignificant amount with practically all athletes getting a small portion of the pie. In America, the NCAA not withstanding, if you have outstanding talent, you have the opportunity to parlay it into financial prosperity
If the athletes are allowed to profit from promoting themselves, then besides possibly signing with some type of agent or marketing agency to guide them through the process, this would be a powerful incentive for the athletes to also take courses that would help them be better businessmen and businesswomen, and hopefully help provide skills for a foundation for life after their playing career is over. For many athletes, such a course of study may be the first time they'd actually put their heart and soul into academics. That could be a game changer because when the athletes playing days are over, their academic abilities and skills will likely be important if they are going to pursue a career that pays well.
Characters featured in Student Athlete
The film features four athletes, a coach, and Robert Turner, a former pro football player that presently is an author that has a PHD. None of the athletes were products of the traditional family structure. Silas Nacita, came from a home where his parents divorced at a young age. Shamar Graves had a rocky family situation, as it was said in the film that in high school he went from house to house, sometimes living in a car. 6 foot 11 inch, 5 star basketball player, Nick Richards, family moved to the USA from Jamaica to support the dream of playing in the NBA. The only male figure associated with him in the film was his coach. The last athlete, former basketball player Mike Shaw, it appeared was raised, at least in part, by his grand dad.
Shaw's grandfather tried to speak reality to him, scoffing at the idea of focusing on sports as a career, and pointed out how he wanted to send one of his other grand kids to school to be a plumber so he can make six figures. Some others tried to discuss career prospects with Shaw, but he'd deflect the conversations, "I'm keeping my options open", etc... He, unfortunately developed some psychiatric challenges, and by the end of the film he was still unemployed. Can't blame the NCAA for that.
At one point in the film Shamar's mom was trying to explain to him how he should try to turn a college degree and connections gained through his sports success, into a successful career. Shamar didn't seem too on board with that. He worked various jobs that did not financially sustain him, as several times in the film he said he was barely eating. The film also showed Turner trying to counsel him as well, encouraging Graves to have a productive plan.
Shamar's plan eventually became to continue his pursuit of professional football, and the end of the film showed him playing for an Arena League team. In his words, "another shot at football taking me to the promised land". Updated news for Shamar describes him as having played for several Arena league teams. He obviously is very skilled, as he's had NFL tryouts and he has successfully made several Arena league teams. He loves football and has every right to pursue his football dream, but it doesn't change the fact that there needs to be a plan for a career after the playing days are over. Neglecting to do so shouldn't prompt pointing a finger at the NCAA, instead look in a mirror.
As for Richards there was never any talk of him going to college for any other reason than to play in the NBA. Although his freshman season at Kentucky was disappointing, someone that is 6 foot 11 with his talent, will likely play pro ball somewhere eventually. For what league, and for how much money, who knows, but when his playing days are over, I'm curious about what will he do then.
The film made it obvious that Nacita is also a very talented football player, but I question the wisdom of walking on at Baylor, which meant receiving no financial help from the football program. Not being able to afford Baylor and accepting unauthorized financial help is what led to him eventually having to leave the program. Prior to enrolling at Baylor he said he wanted to play at the highest level, meaning with a big time D1 school. Once the financial considerations were understood, it is hard for me to believe that a kid that good didn't have opportunities to choose some smaller schools where he could have played football while his education was being paid for. He needed to realize that the pros can find you at small schools, and besides, if he stood out at the small college level there was also the possibility of transferring to a big school later that was willing to offer him a scholarship. Despite his rocky road, Nacita made no excuses and didn't act as if he was owed something as a result of his pursuit of football success. With better advice, I can't help but feel that his journey would have been a lot smoother. That, however; is not the NCAA's fault either.
From time to time in the film, Robert Turner, would weigh in. When Shaw's brother urged him to consider a career with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Turner voiced that it was tough for athletes that had spent the bulk of their adolescence and young adulthood learning their sport, making sacrifices and at the expense of other things, to "turn around and to move on to take a job at Enterprise." That may be a fact, but it is a terribly sad one. Preparing for a good Plan B career should be a given, and needs to be stressed in the households of all student-athletes from a young age. As a teacher, coach, and a parent of a successful student-athlete, I choose not to validate the thought process exhibited by the athletes in this film. I instead vigorously oppose it.
Turner also said that it is incumbent on a multimillion dollar industry (NCAA) to help with the players families financial needs. Well if there was a competing organization bidding for the athletes, then I guess that kind of help may be offered by the NCAA as part of a benefits package to make their organization more attractive, but that not being the case, I can't see the NCAA feeling it owes the families anything outside of the immediate needs of the athlete that was recruited. My problem, once again, is that I believe that it is criminal to deny the athletes the opportunity to do for their families through their own efforts.
The last major person featured is John Schoop, a former pro football coach and coach at the major college level. His advocacy for wanting the athletes to get paid seemed to lead to him getting black balled, as he was not offered any more college coaching opportunities after his last stint was done. You may follow him on twitter to see what he's up to. I believe his heart is in the right place, but not having the stature of a Jon Calipari or Coach K, it is not surprising that schools would find it easy to let his type of advocacy for students keep them from offering him a job.
It will be great if the student-athletes, very soon are able to promote themselves and get paid for it. Whether that happens sooner, later, or at all, it is a mistake for parents to not vigorously oppose their kids putting all eggs to be in the college/pro sports basket. Even if the NCAA rules change and good money is able to be made by athletes in college, the vast majority of them will not go on to sign the mega pro contracts we read about. All athletes need to prepare for a career after the playing days are over. Young athletes should show up for their first day as a high school freshman, with solid skills, not only in the athletic realm, but in the classroom as well, so that they can provide an attractive transcript for whatever type of college they desire. There are many colleges out there that stress excellence on and off the field, but it is incumbent on the student-athlete and family to make that an important part of the criteria for picking a school. If you can really play, the pros can find you.In the mean time get your education and work toward a career that doesn't include playing.