By the way, if you read the ESPN piece I linked to in the last post, you saw that sound bite from former Oklahoma State offensive lineman Russell Okung, who’s been an NFL player for a decade now.
“Why does a free-market system work for everyone but the student athlete?” Okung asked. “It’s about basic civil liberties and repressive measures that still exist today.”
Good question. Okung fleshes that out in this well-written piece for The Players’ Tribune.
If you wonder why there’s grumbling now, when there wasn’t so much before…
The summer going into my senior year at Oklahoma State in 2009, I had a hundred dollars in my bank account and many bills to pay.
My mother had just lost her job and required my financial support. I was lucky enough to know that I would likely be picked in the first round of the NFL draft that spring and would eventually be financially secure. But at that point in time — like so many college athletes around the country — I was broke.
Being broke stung, particularly because I knew that my teammates and I had made others rich. During my days at OSU, I saw fans regularly pay thousands of dollars to fly out to Stillwater to attend games, while many of my teammates didn’t have enough money to fly home to see our families during school breaks. I watched our university lavish elite donors with high-end dinners, while some of my teammates were skipping meals due to lack of funds.
All of this happened while we were wearing commercial insignia on our helmets, shoes and jerseys so that big-time apparel companies could write multimillion-dollar checks to our schools; while we watched universities sell jerseys with our names on the backs — and memorabilia with our images on it — every day; while we saw our likenesses displayed on NCAA video game posters. Our team was worth millions to the school and yet we often had no more than a hundred or so dollars in our bank accounts.
And if you’re wondering why the court cases and the legislation now…
This is one of the main messages I’m bringing to the floor of the California legislature this afternoon, July 9, when I testify in support of the Fair Pay to Play Act. Things ended up working out for me, but there are countless other athletes who have really struggled because of the NCAA’s arcane bylaws. College athletes are in school for a very short period of time, which makes it hard for us to organize — all colleges need to do to prevail is wait us out. We cannot win without support from the outside. [Emphasis added.]
That’s why the NCAA plays the long game as it does. It’s worked well, too.