The Big Game

In the Soviet Union, there's an old joke about socialist economic systems. "We pretend to work," the workers said. "And they pretend to pay us." That joke could almost describe big-time college sports in our own country. Student athletes feel cheated. "We pretend to be students," they say. "And the schools pretend to educate us." Many schools don't even pretend. Fewer than half the athletes on the football fields and basketball courts this fall will ever graduate from college. Dexter Manley, an All-Pro defensive end with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, spent 4 years at Oklahoma State University--only to end up functionally illiterate. Running back Ronnie Harmon spent 3 years at the University of Iowa as a computer science major. But he took only 1 computer course and never graduated. The student-athlete is becoming an endangered species. Many coaches don't even insist that their players attend class. Universities trump up fake courses: Ancient Athletics, Recreation and Leisure, Jogging. Paul Palmer, who plays for the World League of American Football, flunked remedial reading 4 times at Temple University. The courses he did complete included Bowling, Leisure, and Adjusting to a University. With courses like these on their record, the degrees athletes do earn are worthless pieces of paper. Big-time college sports are corrupting the university's academic mission. They're also an invitation to financial corruption. College athletes are impoverished celebrities. Their performance on the field or court produces millions in revenue for the university. But all they receive in return are their scholarships--tuition, room, and board. No pocket money. And during the season, they're forbidden to work, part-time. So when they need spending money, what do they do? Many athletes get loans from their coaches or accept cash under the table. In a pinch, they will sell their athletic shoes or their complimentary tickets. Some even resort to crime. Perhaps the greatest tragedy is what happens to these young men after college. Only a tiny percentage are able to use their college experience as a springboard to professional sports. Most have to try to make a life for themselves outside of sports. But without any marketable skills, that's tough to do. Many end up with low-skilled jobs--or unemployed. Whose fault is it? An article in The Washington Monthly says universities are exploiting their athletes. Many are young blacks from the inner cities. Poor, and poorly educated, they are enticed into playing 4 years of football or basketball without pay--not for their benefit but so the university can raise millions of dollars selling tickets and television rights. Then, after 4 years, their bodies battered, their brains addled--they're simply dumped back out onto the streets. What a tragic irony. Politically correct universities are self-righteously clamping down on anyone who says anything that might be offensive to blacks. Yet those same universities tolerate the exploitation of young black athletes, just to make a buck. As Christians, this ought to make us angry. We ought to either go back to the original Ivy League ideal??practiced, I'm happy to say, in Christian colleges--where players are students first and athletes second. Or else set up a professional system where young athletes can have a real job and receive a real salary. One way or another, it's time to put a stop to this big game, where so many of the losers are young black men.


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary