Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Athletes Sitting Out of the NCAA Tournament? It Almost Happened

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse UniversityScholarship in Action 

I was proud to watch Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel last week, as Gumbel decided to dig into the issue of college athlete compensation. Securing the labor rights of college athletes has been a passion of mine for quite some time, and I was excited that 2011 provided a tremendous amount of momentum around the topic. Our coalition, The Athlete Liberation Academic Reform Movement (ALARM) now has thousands of supporters around the country and Ben Jealous of the NAACP has joined Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a call to reform of one of the most exploitative systems in America.

The Real Sports episode had me on the edge of my seat, as one couldn’t help but laugh while the beneficiaries of the system, Rich Rodriguez (former University of Michigan football coach) and Billy Packer (CBS Sports commentator), were trying to defend a system that they themselves would never accept. Both of these men have been made into millionaires from the labor of college athletes, and have a direct incentive to keep the money away from the players and their families.

The most interesting part of the show was when Bernard Goldberg interviewed former University of Massachusetts player Rigo Nunez. Nunez shocked Goldberg by acknowledging that he and other players around the country were planning to sit out of the 1995 NCAA tournament. To protest the fact that coaches were earning millions while many of the athletes’ families were in poverty, prominent players around the nation decided that they were going to have no part of the NCAA tournament that year.

Here’s how the conversation went down:

Nunez: At one point it was pretty organized among players that maybe the biggest impact that we can have, and the biggest opportunities for us to have a stand, will be prior to the NCAA tournament.

Goldberg: Well, how was that gonna happen?

Nunez: We were not gonna play.

Goldberg: What?

Nunez: We were just gonna go to the middle of the court and sit down. Every game, in the whole country.

Goldberg: Because you weren't getting paid?

Nunez: Because it was not fair to us.


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