In 2013, college basketball playoffs brought in $1.15 billion in television ad revenue alone. According to ESPN this is more money than was generated during the NFL and NBA playoff games. But where does this money go? The NCAA, the universities, including the coaches, event staff; basically everyone involved in the sport except those responsible for creating the revenue and value for the activity — the labor, the student athletes.
Those who are subjected to repeated concussions are at risk for later cognitive problems from something called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Discovered in 2002 by a forensic pathologist upon the conclusion of an autopsy conducted on former Pittsburgh Steelers player Mike Webster, CTE is responsible for exponential increases in early death, memory loss comparable to dementia, headaches, depression, anxiety, increased violent behavior and risk of suicide.
College football players are said to put in around 60 hours of work per week, and we are told that a full ride to college is comparable to a fair salary. The NCAA and universities stand to make millions, and in some cases, billions of dollars each year for what is synonymous to indentured servitude. The wording of a full athletic scholarship sounds great; tuition, room and board and meals all covered, and all you have to do is continue playing the sport you love for at least four more years. You even see the possibility of becoming a professional player. This is the holy grail of athletic achievement.
But what if that full ride isn’t enough? What if your family absolutely cannot afford the school fees and other costs you are still responsible for, as per the fine print of the contract that you signed? What if circumstances align in such a way that you end up living in your car so a concerned person gets you an apartment and your university and the NCAA finds out? Could you have your scholarship revoked? Yes, and it has happened before — to Silas Nacita of Baylor University. He received food and housing assistance from someone he called a “close family friend” on Twitter. The NCAA ruled that this was a form of payment for services rendered, and as such, he would be classified as a professional athlete, thus permanently ineligible for his scholarship.
Studies have shown that even the brains of children involved in football, at the very beginning of their careers, so to speak, will show signs of brain damage on the cellular level. Each subsequent year and injury increases brain damage and risk of the aforementioned complications.
Why did it take well over an hour after Jordan McNair complained of symptoms of heatstroke for the coaching staff to even care? Why was he forced to complete a set of 110-yard sprints, the last of which required the assistance of team members to complete? Why was the heatstroke cool-down protocol not followed? Why did he die of such an elementary-level ailment in the richest, most medically-advanced country in the world?
The answers are simple, yet complicated, nuanced. There exists the myth that men, particularly men of color in this country are able to withstand and endure immense amounts of pain, suffering and heat. Men, through toxic masculinity, are told they must be tough, that they must work beyond their physical breaking point. Capitalist extraction tells us money must be earned through a rigorous set of trials and tribulations, and a free bachelor’s degree in philosophy should somehow be commensurate to all the risks that are taken, even though society tells us this degree, this construct, isn’t a guarantee of a better life; it’s an empty promise.