Introducing WBAA’s Local Voices Project
Some months ago, WBAA began talks with a number of local experts on an idea to create more local content and engage the many learned members of the community in a conversation.
From those brainstorm sessions the Local Voices Project was hatched, wherein five West Central Indiana residents will, once a week and on a rotating basis, shed light on topics in which they have expertise. We plan to broadcast these essays during Here and Now on AM 920 and to post them here on the news blog.
Below you’ll find the first of those posts, from The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop, who will be covering sports.
Before we start, a few disclaimers:
- WBAA’s Local Voices Project consists of opinions from our contributors. Though in some cases the pieces will deal with timely topics, these should not be construed as news content emanating from the WBAA newsroom, NPR or any other affiliated organizations.
- Authors’ opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of WBAA, Purdue University, NPR or any employees of the above-named groups.
- WBAA reserves the right to edit the pieces that make up the Project, both for time and for content (though we will try to minimize both, in hopes the essays will air and be posted in the authors’ own words as much as possible).
With that, here’s Marcia’s kickoff post, in her own words:
There is something comforting about believing you live in an either/or world.
That’s one of the reasons sports have such a hold on human kind. They create clarity in an ambiguous world—there is a winner and a loser, a home team and an opponent, and clear lines drawn for what is out of bounds and what counts as the field of play. And sports give us the assurance of a level playing field where everyone plays by the same rules and everyone has a fair shot if they work hard enough.
Sports are, however, more often a mirror for society’s grey areas than they are an antidote to our most vexing social problems. Even still, those who have the power to tell us the narratives of sport today want us to believe sports are either/or. Many of the most difficult issues facing the world of sports today could be substantively addressed if the powers that be could just let go of their grip on the either/or architecture that has defined revenue sports in America.
My monthly contributions on sports will be an effort to cultivate a deeper conversation about the most pressing issues facing the world of sports today: race, economic justice, concussions, issues of gender and sexuality, and how revenue sports fit into the mission of our country’s institutions of higher learning to name just a few.
Such a deeper conversation begins here by dismissing from duty the red herring of “pay for play.” The warnings of the evils of “pay for play” keep us from thinking rationally about what is fair for collegiate athletes. Dismissing the red herring from duty clears the way for us to take a more substantive look at a particular issue of economic justice for collegiate athletes: what rights and opportunities athletes who compete at the collegiate level have to be entrepreneurs and to participate in the American marketplace.
Far from an abstract question, this issue is as live as they get. The NCAA convention convenes this week and a proposal that seeks a change to NCAA bylaw 12, concerning student-athlete self-employment, is on the docket. The vote by the 65 Power Five conference schools and the fifteen student-athlete representatives elected from the Power Five is January 15.
One important thing to note about this proposal is that no matter if it passes or fails, there are some things that will remain true for student-athletes who want to start their own businesses:
- Student-athletes cannot start a business that has anything to do with sports. Prohibited business ventures include anything to do with fitness, sports apps, sports memorabilia, or sports videos.
- Student-athletes cannot use their identity as an athlete to promote their own businesses. For example, a football player cannot have a picture of himself in his jersey on a promotional flyer even if the business has nothing to do with sports. The football player cannot use his accomplishments or influence as an athlete to promote his business venture.
- Student-athletes cannot receive any discounts or special deals from vendors, suppliers, or contractors in starting their own business. For example, if I am a student-athlete and I want to start my own tee shirt business (non-sports related, of course) I cannot get those tee shirts at cost from a vendor as a special deal to help me get started.
- Student-athletes must supply 50% of the seed money for the allowable business and no one in the athletic department can have a financial interest in the business.
Anyone who has ever started his/her own business may be having a visceral reaction to these restrictions. What does it mean to start you own business if you can’t trade on the things that give you the most influence and social capital? How can you effectively find investors if you can’t turn to the people who know you and your abilities the best? How many college students have the seed money they need to start a business venture themselves? How many families of college students have adequate resources to provide their student-athlete with such financial capital?
Far from an either/or proposition of either paying collegiate revenue generating athletes for their revenue-generating work or not paying them, the quagmire of economic justice in collegiate sports is a tangled web of rules and regulations that create ridiculous obstacles for student-athletes to just be on a level playing field with other students. Consider for a minute that engineering students, music students, math students, computer science students all have the freedom to trade on their skills and expertise in their area of study to start their own businesses.
Just for fun, let’s consider what would actually change if the bylaw change proposed by the PAC 12 passes. The Power Five conferences (Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, SEC, and Big 12) now have the ability to vote together on changes to NCAA bylaws for the sixty-five schools in those five conferences. Here is what the Pac-12 proposal would change:
- Student-athletes who have the green light to start allowable businesses from the compliance office at their university would be able to use their name, picture, or likeness on promotional materials about their business. In other words, the Pac-12 proposal seeks a change to the current NCAA bylaws that prohibit student-athletes from putting their name or picture on a business card or other promotional materials.
It might sound like a no-brainer to you to say someone should simply be allowed to put his/her name on a business card or flyer promoting a new business. How do you start a business if you can’t even put your name on a business card? Good question.
And this conversation does not even scratch the surface on all the restrictions that student-athletes face when it comes to benefiting from their name, image, or likeness. They can’t sell a jersey that they own on eBay. They can’t agree to sign autographs for $100. They can’t have a yard sale and sell some of their team gear that they don’t use anymore. Shouldn’t collegiate athletes be able to participate in the American marketplace with the resources and social capital their hard work gives them? Another good question.
And if collegiate sports really embodied the fair play we want to believe they do, those with the power to change things would substantively address these important questions. Instead, student-athletes will continue to be disenfranchised and disadvantaged by the either/or mentalities of those who think things are just fine the way they are.
The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop, Ph.D. is a theologian and author of several books including Touchdowns for Jesus and Other Signs of Apocalypse: Lifting the Veil on Big-Time Sports. She lives in West Lafayette with her family. She blogs at www.marciamountshoop.com and you can follow her on Twitter @mmountshoop