Groomed for Exploitation! How Applying the Statutory Definition of Employee to Cover Division IA College Football Players Disrupts the Student-Athlete Myth
41 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2017
Date Written: May 23, 2017
In this article, I examine the connection between the exploitation of college football players and the persistence of the student-athlete myth. The argument that exploitation is enabled by this myth is presented in five parts. First, I briefly define the concept of exploitation, distinguish between two types of exploitation (transactional and structural), and posit that, while there may be some transactional exploitation in dealings between college football players and their schools, this situation poses the problems associated with structural exploitation.
Second, I describe an important part of the sociological context in which this story is unfolding; that these young athletes are groomed for exploitation as high school students and then further exploited as college athletes. To that end, I briefly review six aspects of that exploitation: (1) the sport is brutal; (2) there is a low financial payoff for a sport so high in health and safety risks; (3) college football has been commercialized for some time with Power Five universities and the NCAA having much at stake; (4) the student-athlete ideal is a myth perpetuated by those who have a financial stake; (5) Power Five universities hold monopsony power; and (6) lawmakers have been unwilling to recognize this vulnerability, thereby exacerbating the exploitation.
Third, I position this discussion in the context of two recent news stories: the case of the Frostburg State football player who died in practice because of a concussion that his coach allegedly ignored; and the Northwestern case, in which the football players attempted to form a union. By placing this controversy within the context of two specific cases, one which represents the brutality of the sport and the other which represents players’ unsuccessful attempt at self-help, the reader should gain insights into the horrific exploitation of our young people all in the name of commercialization.
Fourth, I argue that the National Labor Relations Board should have found that the Northwestern football players were employees for purposes of collective bargaining and mutual aid or protection. Finally, I explain that cognitive dissidence results from the fact that college student athletes often meet the statutory definition of employee and our intuition that college athletes should not be employees of the very university that allegedly has an interest in educating that young person.
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