In my most recent blog post, “The NCAA: A Modern Sovereign” I highlighted similarities between the role of the NCAA in college sports and Hobbes’ idea of a sovereign in his social contract, Leviathan. I ended the post by saying there is a chance that student-athletes rise up against the NCAA to revolt against the tyrannical system that is in place. As Taylor Branch said in his themed semester event lecture, “college athletes have no rights” and “student-athletes have no representation in the decision making process of the NCAA.” As I poured over these ideas more and more after actually publishing the blog post, I began to veer away and question the idea of the NCAA as a sovereign and challenge my own self.
After much thinking, I started to connect the NCAA & student-athlete relationship with the bourgeois & proletariat relationship posed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in their publication, The Communist Manifesto. Marx and Engels define the bourgeois as the wealthy class and business owners, and the proletariat as the working class and creators of profits for said businesses. They say the bourgeois constantly exploit the proletariat for their manual labor and low wages. Now this sounds STRIKINGLY similar to the current situation in college sports. However, instead of the student-athletes getting low wages, they get nothing! And yet, these hard working and talented young adults bring in an enormous amount of money to universities and the NCAA.
Marx and Engels say that eventually, once they realize their rights are being broken and exploited, the proletariat will rise up against the bourgeois and overthrow them. They predict the use of riots or unionization in order to do so. They are not alone in this thinking. John Locke, in his Second Treatise of Civil Government, says that the government (in this case the NCAA) exists solely to serve in the best interest of the people they govern (the student-athletes). He says if the people’s fundamental rights are broken, then they have the entitlement to overthrow the government in place. In my humble opinion, workers’ compensation, a basic right of American society, is being broken by not paying these student-athletes. The amount of time and effort the athletes put in to play for their school is massive. They bring in incredible amounts of revenue to universities and the NCAA itself. Branch said that he spoke to four university presidents and all of which said that their salaries would be one third of what they are now if their school did not have athletics. The NCAA defining student-athletes as amateurs is what is keeping them from making money. They call amateurism the “bedrock principle of college athletics and the NCAA.” When you are on ESPN constantly, have video games made after you, have your jersey sold, and much more blatant exploitation, I would argue that you are no longer an “amateur.”
The Northwestern Football team has already made a step in the revolutionary direction, as they are currently making efforts to unionize. If successful, many teams could follow in their footsteps and consider themselves “employees of the university.” However, unionizing may not be the most effective form of revolting against the bourgeois-esque NCAA. As Taylor Branch predicts, players could simply strike. If no players decide to play, all of the revenue the athletes normally generate will suddenly disappear. This affects numerous people, to name a few: coaches, athletic directors, television providers, university presidents, stadium workers, ect. A lot of power is in the hands of the players. This is not a matter of if. It is a matter of when.