Will Unions Save College ‘Student Athletes’ from Poverty?
The 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament came to its frantic conclusion on Monday night, with hundreds of millions of dollars in bets, ticket sales, and ad revenue changing hands across the country as young men hurled themselves at each other in desperation on national television. In the end, UConn point guard Shabaaz Napier was basking in the glow of victory, smiling for the cameras with his teammates, which made it easy to forget that he recently expounded on the seedy underbelly of college sports in America.
"I don’t feel student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars, but like I said, there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving," he told reporters in late March when asked about the Northwestern University football team’s ongoing effort to unionize.
In case you haven’t noticed, big-time college athletics is a pretty sordid business that rests on the exploitation of the labor of young men and women, many of them from poor backgrounds, under the auspices of the dubious “student-athlete” construct. Supposedly these kids are on campus to learn first and play second, ridiculous one-paragraph essays notwithstanding. But as has been repeatedlypointed out, the universities, coaches, and NCAA brass rake in huge profits each year—college sports is now a multibillion-dollar industry—while the kids who don’t make the pros (or suffer heinous injuries before they have the opportunity) are largely left high and dry.
Fed up with the status quo, the Northwestern Wildcats—a mediocre but widely identifiable Division I football program—filed with the regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to form a union and earn legal recognition as employees earlier this year, and, in what is being hailed as a potentially landmark ruling, they won. Now the students are set to vote on April 25 on unionization, and there is at least some chance they will embrace the opportunity, assuming the university overlords don’t scare them away from the idea. With employee status and union bargaining power could come protection for those with athletic scholarships from suddenly being cut off from receiving an education if they became injured or didn’t perform as expected—and maybe, further down the line, they could receive a real share of the cash generated by the massive advertising revenue their athletic endeavors make possible.
Fast food is blood to me. And I don’t mean that because I eat it often— I mean it populates my mind and flows through my veins. Sometimes I can be ultraproductive for a whole week by telling myself that if I make it through and finish all of my work, I will reward myself by eating shit. My carrot on a stick is a dripping Big Mac is what I’m saying. Some of my most powerful emotions have been procured in the drive-throughs of the dozens upon dozens of butthole food options America has bequeathed its hungry citizens. Sometimes even just driving down the road feels like a Death Olympics, where at any point you could pull over and upload a couple thousand calories into your face.
After spending several days sprawled out watching men on TV throw a ball at a hole in an effort not to get eliminated from some competition, I decided to subject the butt buffets of America to a similar competition. I seeded 64 of our most popular corporate fast food establishments from one to 16, based primarily on sales stats, then went to business facing the fuckers off based on what my body likes. Below are the results.
1. McDonald’s 16. Denny’s
8. Del Taco 9. White Castle
5. Dairy Queen 12. Krystal
4. Chipotle 13. Manchu Wok
6. Five Guys 11. Baskin-Robbins
3. Domino’s Pizza 14. Miami Subs
7. Church’s Chicken 10. Qdoba
2. Pizza Hut 15. Smoothie King
McDonald’s is hosted by a clown and their only item that isn’t shitted up are the french fries; Denny’s gives you actual silverware, so fuck Denny’s: McDonald’s.
In elementary school my mom would take us to Del Taco, and all I remember is the refried beans, how you could almost drink them; White Castle is piss: Del Taco.
Krystal is only OK to eat if you’re so drunk you won’t remember anything the next morning besides the smell; Dairy Queen dunks shit in chocolate up to your wrist: DQ.
There’s nothing fundamentally offensive, really, about the new Odd Future Stone Wash Pajama Zubaz uniforms that adidas rolled out on Thursday in preparation for the NCAA tournament later this month. Aesthetically, maybe, there are some things to disagree with—the color-schemes apparently based on flavors Gatorade invented, like “Frost Cascade Crash”; the shorts that resemble something a Jacksonville-area steroid dealer might’ve worn in 1991; the Notre Dame uniform, which looks like a Shamrock Shake with a tall dude trapped inside it. These are reasonable things to notice and take issue with, although it’s useful to remember that these uniforms were made with that purpose in mind—ruffling people square enough to care about college basketball uniforms, and ruffling them into using the word “adidas” if at all possible. This has worked—I’ve now done it twice in this column, and did it elsewhere yesterday—although it would have worked less well if there was anything else to talk about in sports right now. So, mission accomplished. Remind me to tell you about adidas’s patented ClimaCool Zones, an exciting new fabric technology that might well solve forever whatever pseudo-problem it purports to address, for all I know.
There’s a certain baseline squickiness to non-stories like this, which are essentially and inescapably re-heated press releases served with a side salad of Hot Take. It helps (if that’s the word) that these uniforms are undeniably something-a-skateboarding-cartoon-dinosaur-would-wear gaudy and legitimately strange. But the conversation they generate is mostly crypto-promotional noise. It’s familiar, too—think of those popular videos that get posted to every traffic-seeking site on the web along with a couple paragraphs about how stupid this video-meme is; think of the branded factoids and drowsily re-reported press releases that are the stock in trade of the widely loathed ESPN Brand Enthusiast Darren Rovell. These things are forgettable spurts of spume generated by the internet’s relentless, affectless churn. It’s hard to know what percentage of the web consists of ostentatiously and unapologetically content-free content like this, but it’s a two-digit number that probably starts with a seven or an eight and ends with a LeAnn Rimes upskirt.
But then there’s high school football, where very young people make mistakes and older people sit in the stands and yell the worst things they can think of at other people’s children. Again, it’s your life and your thing, and if confessing in a scoutish, authoritative tone to a bleacher neighbor that some 15-year-old you’ll never meet “kind of fagged it up” on that play is what you need to do, then certainly good luck getting well. But if we’re going to draw a line, we might as well draw it here. Or maybe slightly further out, somewhere around the increasingly overstated and reliably depressing stretch that culminated earlier this week with college football’s National Signing Day.
Some media outlets enlist entire staffs of college basketball experts and “bracketologists” to pick NCAA tournament games, but we’ve found that not only do so-called experts always go for the chalk and predict that three one-seeds will make the Final Four, they also have terrible hygiene habits. Fun fact: The ESPN College GameDay crew doesn’t even use toilets, they piss and shit indiscriminately wherever they happen to be. Their green room is disgusting. So we decided to go with a much cleaner, and more intelligent game picker: Olive the Hairless Cat. Here’s her predictions for Thursday’s games, along with the occasional behind-the-scenes look at her deliberation process:
Wichita State (5) vs. VCU (12)
Wichita State has decent “length,” as a scout and/or a groupie would say, but VCU is the home of GWAR and went far in last year’s tourney. Both teams are pretty exciting and one will go home unhappy, unless, that is, GWAR is on the flight home. This should be one of the better draws in the round.
Olive’s pick: VCU
Indiana (4) vs. New Mexico State (13)
It’s pretty crazy to think that no one knows where the term “Hoosier” came from.
Olive’s pick: Indiana
Olive’s pick for VCU vs. Indiana on Saturday: VCU
Murray State (6) vs. Colorado State (11)
Colorado State’s offense is a bit better than Murray State’s, but its defense is much, much worse. And Murray State has a fun name. It’s like calling a school University of Steve.