This Doug Gottlieb piece on Manziel and why student-athletes should appreciate what they’ve been given is making the rounds and getting plenty of favorable nods. Me, I’m kinda shaking my head over it. I don’t doubt the sincerity behind what was written (and it sounds like Gottlieb’s got some personal demons he’s still trying to exorcise, which may explain some of that), but it’s hard to swallow this as some sort of fair deal:
OK, here’s the part of your rights you sign away when you accept the athletic scholarship, which remember, entitles you to all of the above. If you’re a star, we are going to sell you. We’ll use your likeness in promotional materials, we’ll use your talents to help sell season tickets and merchandise, and we’ll sell you to recruit more athletes, and more students, to come to our campus. If you’ve made it big, we’ll continue to do that after you leave.
Terms are thrown around like ‘exploitation’ and ‘indentured servitude,’ neither of which reflect the reality of what takes place, which is the marketing of a young men’s athletic skills in exchange for training, promotion, competition and evaluation in their chosen sport, in addition to the best education the athlete chooses to receive from a university. You want exploitation? Try high-achieving students who earned their way into school, perform at high levels academically, graduate and achieve in the workforce, then are asked to join the alumni association and donate money in addition to whatever student loans they’re attempting to repay. In this way, schools exploit all their students. If anything, athletes get off easy, as athletes can exploit (the action of benefitting from resources) schools, more often than vice versa.
First off, ‘exploitation’ and ‘indentured servitude’ are not equivalent terms and to suggest they are undermines the argument. Nobody is putting a gun to the head of a kid and parent and forcing them to sign an agreement with a school. But exploitation? That’s a different story. A story that starts with teenagers who are not permitted to seek representation and professional advice before entering into the most significant contractual relationship of their lives. Teenagers, moreover, who, because of the reality of the sports world, typically don’t have any other alternatives to marketing their skills than inside the NCAA system.
And that whole first paragraph is bullshit in the sense that it’s being pitched as part of the deal. Kids aren’t told, “hey, we’re going to market you so we can get some of our money back.” They’re told they’re being held to some arcane notion of amateurism that is supposed to keep college athletics pure and holy. Except for coaches, I guess.
Yes, you may also help the head coach of the program you signed on with make millions of dollars. But let’s not lose sight of this: show me a coach making millions of dollars, and I’ll show you someone who worked for years, usually decades, for that privilege. Coaches all have their degrees, and have worked their way up through the ranks of the profession just like hard-working people do in every profession. They have earned the right to be fully-vested partners in the firm. They have hired you, essentially, as an intern who gets paid in college credits and other amazing, non-monetary benefits as an important part of a lucrative business. They do not owe you a piece of their salary.
Nor do they owe you any sympathy if you decide you no longer want to play for their program and wish to go somewhere else. Or if they decide they’d rather coach some other place where the grass is greener.
And that’s the whole problem here. Schools can jump conferences for money. Conferences can change configurations for money. Coaches can leave for money, or leverage their positions for money. None of that makes anyone even blink anymore. But a kid – even one as obnoxious as Manziel is portrayed to be – asks $25 for an autograph or gets $1000 for a signed jersey and he’s a spoiled, ungrateful asshole who, as Gottlieb puts it, “put the rest of his teammates, his coaches, his family and everyone who ever believed in him at risk”. Sorry, but that ain’t fair. Even if he is asked to join the alumni association one day.