I am always befuddled by the much ado that folks devote to topics to which they know little. I know that we kindly refer to those folks who know everything about sports but have never played one in their lives as armchair athletes. They tend to know everything that a high-ability athlete needs to do in order to make the best play — more so than any coach. Never mind that they have never played the sport and, if they did, well, would they be sitting on the couch or in their basement pit group barking out orders on the other side of the TV?
There is a new group of experts to add to the couch. Call them, arm chair athletic directors (ACAD). You see, they know everything about the psychology, sociology, policy and academics of athletes. However, they tend to get some things, well, twisted. In order to just help folks through their newly un-appointed positions, I have listed some things that ACAD’s might want to think about while directing their “make believe” athletic department.
- Please quit reminding athletes that they are students first. They already know that they are students. Please do not begin to refer to dancers, musicians, singers, painters, etc. as student dancers, student musicians, student singers, etc., because that would imply that they need to be reminded that they cannot do both. In fact, why don’t we ever hear those subtitles?
- On the other hand, some of you need to remind yourselves that athletes are students, too. Although they, some athletes, bring in millions that line the pockets of many folks — just not their own. Then, go stand in front of the mirror each morning and tell yourself it’s OK not to share the revenue generated by these same athletes, because they are amateurs. You might actually begin to believe that.
- Please quit suggesting that students who are athletes should not have to choose one identity over the other. They can do both. Ask why we don’t remind dancers, singers, painters, etc., to remember that they are students first. Gifted folks can have more than one identity or does this rule only apply for those who are kinesthetically gifted — particularly basketball and football?
- BTW, we, everyone, should more than likely develop an athletic identity. Last I checked, America needed to shed a few pounds.
- If you are concerned about athletes falling back on something, there is something called health and kinesiology, sports management, business and a host of other majors that many athletes tend to choose. They actually speak with academic counselors, and there are folks in athletic departments who know what they are doing.
- Athletes tend to be kinesthetic learners — sort of like folks majoring in dance. This is no surprise. Again, let’s keep asking ourselves why we so concerned about athletic abilities and not others (do we remind the ballet majors?)
- If you are so concerned about athletes falling back on something, do what many people do, “hook” them up with your uncle, cousin or family member who owns some business when they graduate and allow them to talk about how they pulled themselves up from their bootstraps. Better yet, hook up everyone, and we all can go around talking about pulling ourselves up by our privileged bootstraps.
- Quit saying they don’t major in anything. See No. 7. Many folks major in all sorts of disciplines, and most folks receive a boost from nepotism.
- Quit saying that basketball and football families are too concerned about athletics. Lots of families pay attention to sporting prowess and there is nothing wrong with that. My son played tennis and no one at that tennis club was in the least bit overly troubled when they spent well over $35,000 to purchase shoes, rackets and lessons. And everyone thought that their precious baby would go pro.
10. Quit asking about how young is too young to recruit. There is a 12 year old in the physics department and he was ready for the challenge. One can also become a designer at the age of 9 and no one will ask them to repent or to wear sack cloth and ashes. You can go pro in many sports at a young age. Why not basketball or football? Playing a professional sport is not a crime.
11. Please quit being so concerned about athletes getting “paid.” Most people are paid when they perform a service or when they bring in large sums of money from performances. Call it funding or royalties because what they do generates significant funding for the university. And yes, some actually bring in way more than their scholarships. Wake up and walk into the 21st century. This is not your mama’s athletics anymore. They sell more than 25 cent boxes of popcorn.
12. Think about divesting athletics from colleges — specifically basketball and football ― since we are so concerned about their well-being.
13. Oh, scratch No.12, that would mean we would lose some money. Oh, but they are amateurs. Oh, but they make lots of money for their schools. But we cannot pay them, because they are amateurs. But they generate the money, lots of it. OK, well then, what do we do? Oh, yeah, in order to make ourselves feel better about exploiting gifted athletes, we keep saying, “Students first” in the bathroom mirror each morning. Then we can tap our ruby red slippers together and say, “There’s no place like home, Toto.” But, deep down we know that when we get back to Kansas, Auntie Em will tell us that we owe those kids and that Oz is a liar.
14. BTW, could someone ask whether the students in the arts, dance and music are able to accept pay for performances? Could someone ask Brooke Shields, Jodie Foster and Tyra Banks and ask how that works? This gets confusing. Which gifted folks get to pick up a paycheck?
15. To my own colleagues, who sometimes believe that they have an appointment in athletics, does anyone cheer for you when you teach? Does anyone wear your jersey number or name on the back of their shirt? Oh, yeah, you don’t have a clothing line — jersey. Really, come on, does anyone scream your name during class because you performed a really cool calculation or soliloquy? While students bring in a box of popcorn from time to share, no one is filling up a 100,000-plus capacity stadium and buying $5 boxes of popcorn to watch any of us. CSPAN, CNN and ESPN have not called to record my replays. And sometimes, I am pretty darn stellar!
16. So, yeah, coaches at your institutions more than likely make more than we do. That’s money generated from athletics department. My discipline is education; we just don’t generate that kind of dough — even when we are stellar.
17. BTW, the measly check that you pick up for honorariums pales in comparison to the television rights, ticket sales and paraphernalia that one of your 18- to 20-year-old students brings to your prestigious institution. Also most of them have way more people following them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Reality check. The fact is, faculty types, in general, are just not that interesting.
18. When you write a book or consult, do you give your entire paycheck to the dean? No, you don’t. Yet, hmm, indirect costs.
19. Why do we not pay athletes a portion of the revenue generated from performance? Oh, yeah, amateur and scholarships.
20. Please, quit using the argument that we have to fund each of the athletic programs equally. So folks in soccer, tennis, golf, etc., would be allotted the same amount as those in football and basketball. While the logic is flawed, I like it. Run over and ask the president of your university to start paying each faculty member the same — that’s fair. I would love to make the same amount as my dear faculty colleagues in the school of medicine. In fact, Mr. President, please pay me as much as a brain surgeon or the cardiologist in the medical school — it’s only fair. (To the president of my university, can we work this out?)
We live in our own little couch potato, know it all, arm chair expert worlds, where we try to understand and make sense of something called athletics, athleticism, fan behavior, celebrity, etc. We struggle to find a suitable meaning to an event and social system that exist within our own institutions that generates millions in revenue. Fact is, most of us don’t get athletics. We certainly don’t get that it operates within a reality that is dissimilar from the spaces in which most of us reside.
Think about this, how does one confer the title of amateur to an athlete who brings in millions of dollars to institutions, athletic organizations and people in general, and yet they are not offered a dime beyond their “scholarships” for their services? Please don’t argue that they receive a four-year scholarship. They don’t. They receive one-year, renewable scholarships and many are funded through grants from financial aid. Plus, sometimes big athletic programs generate millions of dollars.
Since we have elected to hang on to a definition that no longer describes this machine kindly referred to as collegiate athletics, we can fool ourselves into actually believing in the mythical amateur (and Oz). When we hoodwink ourselves, we don’t feel as guilty about not sharing the significant cash flow generated by hard-working people.
Now, back to the mirror to ask, “Is it really fair?”