Change Gon’ Come
A revolution in college athletics is coming, but who will be the catalyst?
by Quinn Peterson / @QwinFNP
In recent years, trying to determine what social issues—if any—could get a wide-range of people to get up, get into it and get involved has become an increasingly difficult task, as society has become, at least on the surface, more and more fragmented.
Yes, the Web allows people to be more connected than ever, but technology also perpetuates more physical isolation and gives everyone a voice, and has bred a new hunger for individuality. The “you just do you, I’ma do me” mentality now reigns supreme.
Especially in comparison to previous eras, there simply seems to be more apathy and complacency from the general public than ever before. This translates to the sports world, as well. Gone, it seems, are the days of Bill Russell, Jim Brown and Curt Flood, players unafraid to stand up for something, putting a greater cause above their own careers.
To be sure, the circumstances are different. While players and people have taken a step back, widespread indifference has made it nearly impossible for any real meaningful social movements to occur anyway. We could be seeing that change, however.
This Occupy Wall Street business has been getting much pub as of late, and rightfully so. In searching for something—a social issue—that is, in theory far-reaching, widely-inclusive and universal enough to strike a chord across countries, races and ethnicities, this is it, no doubt. That’s proven by the fact that OWS movements are taking place everywhere from New York to Oakland to Asia to Egypt to Europe. (The demographic makeup of the body politic—in America, it’s generally been young, white folks, so far—of each demonstration is a different story, though it is still too early to tell.)
An interesting question worth pondering, then, with OWS underway and the college basketball season just around the corner, is this: Will there ever be another team, on the college level in particular in this case, that has a great cultural impact? And if so, what will they stand for? How will they make us remember them?
In light of the recent globally broadcasted social disputes, largely revolving around the relationship between employee and employer, the answer is simple: it will be the player, or group of players, or entire team(s) that stands up against the NCAA and colleges and universities, in protest of continued exploitation.
Reflecting on those that have had longstanding impacts, many name Georgetown’s menacing “Hoya Paranoia” teams of the ’80s, under the direction of John Thompson, as culturally significant, along with Texas Western’s 1966 team, Houston’s Phi Slama Jama squads and early ’90s UNLV. All were deeply influential in their own right, especially G’Town and Texas Western, be it because of their style of play, demographic makeup, or both.
The most recent team to cement their place in history was Michigan. Last season, ESPN’s acclaimed 30 For 30 series highlighted Michigan’s Fab Five: Jalen Rose, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, and the immense cultural impact they had, which remains ubiquitous to this day.
They stood not just for hip-hop, but more importantly, for the unapologetically individualistic mind state that came with it and resonated with so many Americans—especially the youth and those often misrepresented in the mainstream. Borrowing Steve Stoute’s terminology, the Fab Five were major catalysts in hip-hop’s role in the tanning of America.
“Those members of the Fab Five were at the forefront of a generation for whom hip hop was the soundtrack of their lives,” said Dr. Todd Boyd in his 2003 book Young, Black, Rich, and Famous: The Rise of the NBA, the Hip Hop Invasion, and the Transformation of American Culture. “Therefore, when the Fab Five took the court in the early ’90s, their connection to hip-hop culture was on display for all to see.”
The Wolverines began to notice something else, as well, which Jalen Rose briefly alluded to in the doc. Millions of people were purchasing U of M merchandise, and they—the players—weren’t being compensated.
“We figured everyone was making paper but us, so if they going to make money and sell everything we do, we’re going to wear plain gray shirts, plain blue shirts [as opposed to Nike shirts],” said Rose in a SLAMonline interview.
This brings us to today. Will we ever see another Georgetown or Fab Five? If so, there is no doubt about the path they must take to get there. It will be via protest, for sure.
They must pick up where Rose and company left off before eventually caving in. Refuse to wear a team’s brand-sponsored apparel (shoes, socks, etc.); demand for other teams to do the same; take advantage of access to traditional media and social media, and the expediency of information; and finally, refuse to play.
It sounds extreme, sure, but extreme is the only thing that warrants a reaction. We’re talking about mills, but this is nothing for the meek. To be sure, most will be content with the current structure: get your scholarship, go to school, play ball. End of discussion. A great majority of college ballplayers—and people, in general—lack the wherewithal and audacity to boldly challenge the system. But complacency will only allow the situation to continue as it has.
I myself am not a former college athlete and I’m not a statistician or politician or econometrician, but you don’t need to be to understand what’s going on. It’s flat-out illogical—a billion-dollar industry that pays the most crucial members of its workforce nothing.
Quite simply, a scholarship is no longer equivalent to an education (word to Bomani Jones). It is a system that was created decades ago, but has failed to evolve as college sports’ popularity—and profitability—have increased astronomically. (Keep in mind, this conversation only pertains to the two main college sports: Division I football and men’s basketball.)
Change is in effect already, in fact, by way of players’ petitions, and the recently implemented NCAA-approved reforms. But until some kind of more legitimate compensation is agreed upon (and not some weak-ass $2,000. It’s two thousand more than they had, but in the grand scheme of things, and the hundreds of millions of dollars being generated otherwise, that’s throw away money), there is still the need for folks to stand up and speak out. Players are going to have to speak for themselves, using words or actions.
It is interesting, yet surely not a coincidence, that all of these events are happening at the same time. Between Occupy Wall Street, the NBA lockout, and NCAA reforms, the discrepancy between owners and managers, and players and employees is being placed on a public platform in a way that has seldom—if ever—presented itself.
Now is the time to take capitalize. Just as civilians have taken to the streets to protest the country’s flawed economic distribution, and the Player’s Association looks to stand strong in the face of the NBA, college athletes, sooner or later, are going to have to take a stand for themselves.
Whoever decides to do so first, will be the next team to etch their names not in the record books, but more importantly, in the memory banks.