March Madness and Pimps: Forms of Contemporary Slavery in AmericaBy
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.
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