March Madness and Pimps: Forms of Contemporary Slavery in America

It is that time for the 2011 NCAA college basketball championship. The NCAA teams have been courageously whittled down to only 2. This month, those two will stand on the national stage while many of you will be celebrating by enjoying young athletes giving it their all for their school on the wood court. Did you know March Madness earnings were second to the earnings of the Super Bowl? While downing beers, sodas, pizza, and other Americana delectable treats while wearing some form of clothing symbolizing your loyalty to a particular college team; I am sure many of you are not cognizant that an atrocity is occurring right under your carbohydrate induced noises. This atrocity I have ideologically catalogued as prostitution and contemporary slavery. “Wow,” you may say. “Me, support prostitution?” Well that answer is best answered through a quick and critical analysis of the big money college sporting programs such as basketball and football.

Last week, the television show Frontline, on PBS, televised “Money and March Madness.” In addition, HBO televised Bryan Gumbel’s Real Sports. Gumbel presented an hour-long show dedicated to the college sports, money, the NCAA, bribes, and exploitation of players on March 30, 2011. Michael Lewis, the author of “The Blind Side” noted that college sports are not what the NCAA say they are. In an interview for Frontline, Lewis said, “College sports is professional in every aspect, but one. They don’t pay the labor. You got a labor force that is essentially indentured servants.” These students have the economic value, but can’t benefit from it due to a system that operates opposite of the free market. The current system does not allow students to make the money they are valued as players to the NCAA and their university of attendance. In the episode, Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls and former star player for the University of Florida describes the system as “exploitation.” An interesting and unknown fact is that these amateur athletes are required to sign their rights away before they can ever play a down, or run the courts to make a point. Part III of a NCAA 440-page manual states that as 17 and 18-year-old amateur athletes, they promise to give up their rights for compensation. They also give up the rights to the likeness as athletes. That means for your favorite player on NCAA basketball or football video game on your Sega or Play Station will never see one penny from the sale of these games. In fact the money you collectors use to purchase well-known game DVDs, and retired athletic apparel that is put out by the NCAA never goes to these players as well. You are padding the pockets of the NCAA.

The President of the NCAA, Mark Emmert, would agree that it is a fair exchange. He reported on Frontline

We provide [athletes] with remarkable opportunities to get an education at the finest universities on earth…to gain access to the best coaches and the best trainers to develop their skills and abilities. So if they have the potential, that small proportion to play in professional sports, we’re helping them to develop those skills and they can do it if they choose to…If they choose to not go on or don’t have the skills and abilities, they get to go on in life and be successful as a young man or young woman.

First, the scholarships that are offered are on average $3000 shy of paying for essential expenses. Next, for those who do have the potential to become professional athletes, their numbers are small. Approximately 1% of college athletes go on to be successful at the professional level. The remaining will have to reach the stars through other arenas. But this daunting pathway is usually paved with many sharp jagged stones and boulders. What do you expect when 16 of this year’s March Madness basketball teams have a track record of graduating half of their players. The Baylor University basketball team during the 2009-2010 academic year graduated 29% of their players. Their football team graduated less than half. The 2008 Georgia National football champions graduated 55% of their players while that year’s basketball team graduated 38%.

For the students that do graduate, such as the promising wide receiver from the University of Alabama, Tyrone Prothro who won an award from the 2006 ESPY ceremony, as well as the Pontiac Game Changing Award, and thought of as once a potential Heisman winner; his professional life now involves being a bank teller down the street from the stadium that he once played at in Alabama. Due to an injury in an Alabama vs. Florida game during his junior year, he never played again. On the other hand, many do not end up like Rigoberto Nuñez of the 1996 Final Four University of Massachusetts basketball team. After graduating, he has a successfully career in college admissions. He asserted on Real Sports that he is not the norm. In fact, many athletes are not so lucky. He even jokes with the term “college athlete.” Nuñez said, “You are not there to graduate. You’re there to stay eligible or take enough courses that will keep you on the court.” Chaz Ramsey, University of Auburn football player in 2007 reported to Real Sports that his coach was famous for saying that academics is number one (while holding up 2 fingers) and football is number two (while holding up one finger).

Many of these players who are injured later are dropped from the team and lose their scholarship. Some later drop out of school completely. Due to a 1973 ruling, college and universities cannot offer more than one-year scholarships at a time to any player. If a player gets hurt or does not produce the stats expected by coaches, they have the option to not offer additional scholarships. Simply put, these players are seen as unsalvageable and dispensable. To many economists, this transaction would be deemed as a compensation for specific skills. Therefore it is a professional job.

As Wu Tang put it in C.R.E.A.M, “cash moves everything around me, cream get the money, dolla dolla bill ya.” In 2009 the University of Texas football program earned $94 million. During the same year, 14 top executives of the NCAA earned $425,000. The top executive in charge of the Sugar Bowl made $645,386 in 2008. The 2008 Georgia bulldog football team earned 18 million. During Tyrone Prothro’s time at Alabama, the football program earned 125 million over a three-year period. The current coach of Kentucky basketball earns $4 million a year. The University of Kansas basketball coach, Bill Self makes 3 million. The predecessor of Mark Emmert earned 1.7 million. In a 14-year contract between the NCAA and CBS, Turner Broadcasting, to televise March Madness, the NCAA will earn 10.8 billion. This estimates to approximately 700 million a year. We cannot forget the millions and millions that come through endorsements to teams and coaches through companies such as Nike, Addidas, AT&T, and etc. The NCAA would note that the 90% they earn (ticket sales, media rights, and etc.) as a non-profit organization goes to support the sports that do not earn the amounts basketball and football earn. An argument I find imprudent.

It is evident that the majority of players on college football and basketball are Black males. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida released its annual study, “Keeping Score When It Counts: Graduation Success and Academic Progress Rates for the 2011 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament Teams.” They noted that 91 percent of white and 59 percent of African-American men’s Division I basketball student-athletes graduated in 2010. Moreover, the gap between Black and White basketball players increased to 32 percentage points. In regards to football,

among the 70 bowl-bound teams this year, the [graduation rate] for African-American football student- athletes is 60 percent, up from 58 percent in 2009. The [graduation rate] for white football student athletes went from 77 percent last year to 80 percent this year. Overall, this reflects a 20 percentage point gap, which is up one percentage point from last year.

The exploitation of Black males is nothing new in this country. Not counting slavery, one could account for today’s Black males incarcerated. Angela Davis argues that the prison industrial complex pumps through the veins of capitalism. For example, the proliferation of the prison industrial complex is enmeshed with the U.S. economy and major companies in an effort to produce good for companies such as IBM, Texas Instruments, Microsoft, Boeing, Nordstrom (produces jeans called Prison Blues), Compaq, Motorola, Revlon, Chevron (prisoners enter data), Victoria Secrets, and TWA (telephone reservations). Prisoners work at a fraction of the pay that the general public would make. This from free labor of Black males is nothing new to this country. Pulitzer Prize recipient, Douglas Blackmon, unmasked the lie that many Americans walk around believing in regards to the end of the enslavement of Blacks within the United States.

Within his national bestseller, “Slavery by Another Name,” Blackmon exposes that Blacks, especially Black males, from the end of the Civil War until World War II were forced into involuntary slavery within states such as Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, through human labor trafficking for companies that dealt with pine tar, coal mines, road construction, timber mills, farm laborers, digging drainage ditches, These men were horribly abused physically and mentally. A narrative of a man who was forced into slavery said that he was whipped due to the fact that he did not know to ditch:

I was whipped because I did not know how to ditch—laid me down flat on my stomach, one man on my head and another man to hold my legs, and whipped me across my back, my cloths were on. I was whipped with a piece of stick about as big as a broom handle. I got 25 licks. I was whipped about every day.’

Others were sadistically flogged with leather straps dipped in syrup and sand, fists, and clubs. Men like him were initially jailed on trumped-up charges and kidnapped by local law enforcement. In order to pay off court cost or fines for these false charges, many were sold to rich land and business owners for as low as 25 dollars. Once bought, the men could not leave until the money owed the new master. This never occurred. All of this occurred under the proverbial noses of the federal and state bodies of government. The end was not insight until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Due to the fact that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt that U.S. enemies within the World War II could exploit the status of Blacks as second-class citizens, he then called federal prosecutors and J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director, to mount an aggressive stance to eliminate the enslavement that was occurring.

Today’s high profile college sports are simply a continuation of the exploitation of Black males. The cycle of oppression continue to flourish and engulf us all. My goal of this was not to cause you to no longer love sports or cheer for those you admire. I simply want that the next time you think before you buying a Nike endorsed jersey or attend your next over priced college stadium sporting event, or take a bite from that fatty hotdog. Just recall that we as a society need to become more aware of the wealthy males we are helping as they continue to bleed out mostly poor and Black males. Ignorance is no longer an excuse in the oppression of the immobilized in the 21st century.


  1. Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

    Dr. Fitzgerald, Florida won the national championship in 2008. Georgia last won in 1980. Sorry, that was gonna nag me.

    That said, I completely agree with your assessment. Now, while I knew many prisons are publicly traded companies, I was unaware that prisoners were producing goods for major companies, but it makes cents.

    Oh, I’m sorry, that sense.

    That begs the question – why do so many convicts leave jail with debt, ie court costs, etc.

    As to the NCAA, the only people who swear up and down and all around that the athletes shouldn’t be paid and that the scholarships aren’t sufficient compensation – the only people saying this are the executives making money. And coaches hoping to get another big time job, ie former Michigan and WVU coach Rich Rodriguez. The biggest joke to me is that the education they receive is invaluable, that no one can put a price on a college education. I think that line is just hilarious. Colleges hella put a price on the education they provide! And seriously, outside of Bob Knight, of whom I’m no big fan, I don’t know of any coaches who stress education to their players.

    And that’s not even getting into high school athletics.

    The other “problem” detractors site how to handle paying athletes considering title 9. But seriously, everyone knows the big money sports. And there’re a few schools where women’s b-ball generates revenue. I believe everyone would understand an exemption for football and men’s basketball. At the very least, players shouldn’t be forced to sign away their rights to their own images for ever and eternity and across all universes. That’s nonsense. What’s the moral purpose of denying players these funds? Especially post-graduation.

    I didn’t know the 1-year scholarship thing had to do with a court case. That’s nonsense, too. Times have changed. Somebody has to protect the interests of the players. Cause seriously, they’re not there for an “education.” They’re there to keep the coaches employed. Also, like everyone else, they’re there for job training. But you know what? Student non-athletes don’t generate millions in revenue for the university. In fact, other student athletes in other sports like volleyball don’t generate revenue for the university either.

    The players need to be paid. Plain and simple. Everybody’s making money – even other students – but the players. I would ask the college presidents who support the status quo, especially those who support conservative politics, exactly how that’s not slavery, or at least indentured servitude.

    I’ve read Blackmon’s book and second your recommendation. People need to be disabused of the notion that slavery ended in 1865.

    And a question, if you don’t mind – what was your take on Jalen Rose’s “uncle Tom” comments, public reaction, and the (intentional) overlooking of the hate mail the players received? Everything else I’ve read deconstructed Jalen’s comments, but didn’t ask if Coach K really does recruit black players who are more easily controlled. Black players who’ll take a back seat to white players, even if they’re, the black players, are more talented, ie Grant Hill’s being overshadowed by Christian Laettner. No one questioned or even mention Coach K’s treatment of his players. (The first time I heard the idea that Coach K only takes uncle toms was my 1st year in college, from a black professor who had graduated Dook undergrad.) No one’s touched on the hate mail.

    Now that I think about it, college sports lends itself to an awful lot of great white hopes. (I have a story about that, too, but I’ll save it for later.) And let’s be honest, the commentators still report using a racialized lens. They don’t talk about, for example, black quarterbacks and white quarterbacks the same. They don’t.

    Anyway – great post! You combined my three of my great loves: sports, history, and racial justice.

    • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState


      thletes shouldn’t be paid and that the scholarships aren’t sufficient compensation

      Should read, “. . . scholarships are sufficient compensation.

    • Heavy Armor

      “And seriously, outside of Bob Knight, of whom I’m no big fan, I don’t know of any coaches who stress education to their players.”

      ummm…John Chaney?

      • Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

        That is not neccessarily true. Believe it or not, Cinn. Bearcats have a high graduation rate. Now, the media will tell you differently. But their calculations (and the NCAAs rule) do not take into transfer students. Schools that rely heavily on transfer students rankings are misconceiving.

          • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

            I think Dr. Fitz was naming a 3rd school with good graduation rates.

            Myself, I was thinking of GPA when I wrote the Bob Knight comment. I’m sorry I wasn’t more clear. I could be mistaken, but Knight was very strict about his players going to class and preparing for tests, etc, even if it cut into practice time. At least, that’s what I remembering here on some sports show. To me, it’s not just graduating that matters; it’s graduating prepared to use your degree. They talk about helping the players become adults, but I’m not sure they really do.

  2. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

    Black Swan,
    Thank you for your comments. I found them very valuable. I am sorry, you are correct about the championship years. As for the question related to court cost questions, I am not sure as to what exactly are you referring to. I totally agree with the argument about paying students to play. If they were, the money coaches receive would heavily be decreased. I am sure they do not want to stop that flood of cash.

    Next, in regards to the likeness clause, the NCAA has no argument for players signing theirs away. I could find no argument that supported this act either. As for the Jalen Rose’s “uncle Tom” comment, I have not heard of this statement. I would love for you to explain your take on it.

    • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

      The documentary reveals that the Michigan basketball office received a lot of hate mail complaining about the Fab Five, some of it dripping with racist language. Were you aware of any of that at the time?

      The above is what I feel should’ve made headlines. Instead, people went nuts about Jalen’s comments – video below.

      As for Jalen’s comments, the first time I heard the idea that Coach K only recruits Uncle Toms was nearly 10 years ago from my college professor, who had attended Dook undergrad. It seems to me that he used the term correctly, but a lot of people, including Grant Hill, took him to mean that blacks from two-parent homes aren’t really black. That’s not what Rose meant.

      I’m asking multiple questions. First, how did Jalen’s comments first strike you? Second, why is Jalen’s comment more noteworthy than the hate mail? I mean, what’s going on in popular culture that the hate mail was overlooked and everyone got all upset about Jalen’s comment? What’s going on that so many people misconstrued Jalen’s meaning? To me, the fact that everyone so happily overlooked the hate mail and so happily assumed he meant “educated, two-parent home” blacks aren’t really black – to me, doing that only proved Jalen was right. People, including Hill, took the opportunity to, again, blame-the-victim when it comes to lower-class blacks.

      Anyway, I think I’ve just answer my own question, which was why the hate mail the Fab Five received overlooked and Jalen’s comments overblowen? I’d still like to know your thoughts.

  3. Hillbilly

    The need for college athletic reform is also found outside of the “big money” sports. Many of the other teams only receive a third of the scholarships needed to be a competitive team, and these scholarships have to be spread out. Track and field teams are perhaps one of the worst in this instance as you may have, say, 14 full scholarships that you have to divide among 40 athletes. Then you add on that you only receive so much equipment, like shoes. If an athlete receives one pair of shoes for indoor and outdoor season, that’s a lot of miles that breakdown the shoe and lead to more risks of injury. So not only are you taking on more student loan debt because more athletic scholarship money is not available and academic scholarships may have substantial restrictions attached to them that puts them out of reach(perform X community service hours, which you can’t because you’re an athlete; you needed X SAT score and a perfect GPA; etc.), but you’re also putting your body at higher risk for injury. Given the more limits of health insurance these days and the possibility that you can no longer receive a scholarship because you got injured, that’s a lot to weigh on your mind. Obviously this is without the context of family and personal struggles that play into people’s decisions.

    Another issue to consider is the decreasing black enrollment at many public universities, particularly in the South. More black students are enrolling at private institutions with their high price tags. This can lead to a number of situations of having scholarships discontinued because of injury or “lack of performance”, high insurance and medical bills, limited education, and a mound of student loan debt to deal with in a short amount of time.

    I was a college athlete during undergrad, and it took my teammates and I a lot of planning to figure out how we were going to survive with little money, inability to work because of the time commitments of our sport, and several other things. There were many times when we would have to take classes together so we could afford one set of books and share among three or four of us. This can definitely hinder the education you receive in college. Many people find loopholes to try and make some money during the season and off-season to cushion the blow of going to college from a financial standpoint, but it’s still tough. It’s not all rainbows and sunshine as an athlete, that’s for sure…

  4. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

    Thank you for your comments. I agree that the system needs a massive overhaul. In regards to limiting athletes in certain geographic locations based off of race does not seem to sit well with me. I feel there are other ways of correcting the current system without segregating athletes.

  5. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

    Blaque Swan, yes i was mentioning a 3rd school. Thank you. As for Bobby Knight you are correct. He also took that attitude toward education to Texas Tech. As for the J. Ross comment, I agree with you. I think his point was lost and twisted in its meaning. For me, I took the comment as you did. I did not feel as Grant Hill felt. Of course, he was a part of the team and took it as a persoanl afront. The comment it self was blown up because of the simple fact that J. Ross is Black and commenting in a negative fashion toward a celebrated White coach. It always seems to me that the level of scrutiny is higher when someone of color says provocative things about race or about other Whites.

    • Blaque Swan, previously No1KState

      J. Ross is Black and commenting in a negative fashion toward a celebrated White coach. It always seems to me that the level of scrutiny is higher when someone of color says provocative things about race or about other Whites

      Of course! And that’s why it received more attention than the hate mail! And, of course, no one can question Coach K’s commitment to racial equality. (being sarcastic)

      Another thought has occurred to me that Coach K’s black recruits are all kids who’re palatable to white sensibilities. So Coach K can promote the white racial frame while appearing not to do so.

      Thanks for the thoughts, Dr. Fitz!

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