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.
FREE - Freeskiing’s Journey To Sport’s Biggest Stage
FREE chronicles Freeskiing’s ascension to sports biggest stage, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. VICE followed 4 of the sports most promising young athletes as they fight to make the US Olympic Freestlye Ski team for the sports first ever inclusion in the Winter Games. The forty minute long documentary will give you snap shot of the sport as seen through these four young athletes, getting a glimpse of the past, present, and future of Freeskiing.
FREE: Freeskiing’s Journey to Sport’s Biggest Stage (Trailer)
FREE chronicles Freeskiing’s ascension to sports biggest stage, the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. VICE followed 4 of the sports most promising young athletes as they fight to make the US Olympic Freestlye Ski team for the sports first ever inclusion in the Winter Games.
FREE premieres tomorrow 1/30 on NBC Sports Networks at 7pm EST and will be on VICE YouTube on 2/4.
The Super Bowl Is a Web of Greed, Lawsuits, and Lies
The Super Bowl is a long, exceptionally polished television advertisement for the corporate state we live under that’s watched by over 100 million people. It ostensibly exists because of a football game, but the annual event has grown over the years into a kind of modern variety show that features singing and dancing during the halftime show, comedy sketches during the commercials, and gruesome blood sport during the actual game. America!
That’s the way most people experience the Super Bowl—as something that, like the Academy Awards and war, happens on TV. But the big game is also a kind of traveling circus, only instead of clowns and acrobats, the people arriving in New Jersey and New York are tourists, security experts, the 1-percenter oligarchs who can afford the ridiculous prices for luxury suites at MetLife Stadium, and actual sex slavers. The big game provides an awesome—in the old sense of “inspiring awe”—spectacle, but for anyone who has to deal with its mundane on-the-ground aspects, it’s a nightmare of greed, lies, and broken promises.
I met Nic Mevoli on a film set in Philadelphia. We remained friends for years, later living in the same Brooklyn neighborhood until I moved across the country to Portland, Oregon, losing touch with him and most everyone in New York. I knew Nic was kind of a jock, but had no idea of his newfound passion for freediving until this past Sunday, when news of his death off the coast of the Bahamas broke. I found out through a Facebook message from filmmaker Esther Bell: “Nic Mevoli passed away today- imso destroyed.” Esther is Nic’s ex-girlfriend, but she’s also how we met, as actors in her 2004 film Exist. Attached was a Daily Mail story detailing Nic’s death, brought on by lung compression after a record-breaking free dive to a depth of more than 200 feet into the Bahamian sea.
Like anyone else who’s read the coverage, I was shocked by Nic’s fast ascent into the top tier of the sport within the short span of two years. But while writers and commenters both seemed to express surprise and confusion as to why Nic would have chosen such a risky and physically demanding new career (not to mention the fact that he lost money in the process), I didn’t share their bafflement.
The Nic I met years ago had not yet become a diving superhero—rather, he was a butcher’s son turned vegan who lived in a South Philly squat and ferociously pedaled his bicycle everywhere out of concern for his carbon footprint. As young activist punks who spent our teen years living in abandoned buildings and raging against the machine, risky behavior (and how to live off stuff we found in the trash) was all we knew.
The argument started over gas money. It escalated to the point where a man got shot in the testicles. And it finished with one of the participants murdered and the other—a professional boxer with 20 victories to his name—in prison.
The dead man’s name was Raul Bennett Sambola, and I’ll get to him, but it was the boxer’s involvement that made the argument and its aftermath famous up and down Nicaragua’s poverty-stricken Atlantic coast. Evans Quinn was a 28-year-old heavyweight at the time of the February 2012 murder; just nine months earlier he had been in Nevada fighting Seth Mitchell. That bout ended with Quinn getting knocked out in the first round, after which he returned to his hometown of Bluefields. But before that humiliation, before he got involved in a feud, killed Sambola, went on the run, and was finally thrown in prison, Quinn was already a local legend, beloved by the people of Bluefields because he was one of them. As he came up through the boxing ranks, they imagined he’d make it to the top and show the world that the people in this poor but lively region are fighters and winners.
“God gave Evans Quinn the ability to rise up the people of Bluefields,” a local pastor told me. “But he threw it away.”
It’s hard to describe Quinn without using words like “potential” and “ability.” He was charismatic as hell, handsome, successful, and able to make whoever he talked to feel like he was the most important person in the world. He claimed to have seven wives (“I’m Muslim,” he told me) and surrounded himself with friends, drugs, women, and guns. But he could also be dangerous—if you crossed him, he wasn’t afraid to use his immense physical talents to show you who was boss. Like when he punched that pastor’s son in the mouth just because the kid was at a nightclub with a girl Quinn thought would be better off with him.
“He was crazy, but he could have done great things,” the pastor said. That’s how eager many in Bluefields were to look the other way when Quinn did something most people would be hated for. That was the influence the boxer had once had here. Today Quinn is still a legend, but now that he’s in prison, his glory days long burned away to ash, his story is now one about wasted potential, or a cautionary tale about what happens when a man takes justice into his own hands. If you’re willing to forgive his excesses and his ugly violent streak, he could even be a folk hero who got thrown in prison by cops with a grudge against him.
The NFL is the most powerful and popular sports league in the country. At this point, it might be the most dominant institution in America, period. In its 93 years it’s grown to become both an altar of mainstream manhood and a multibillion dollar industry that puts on the most highly rated programs on TV. The NFL is so big that fantasy football, a game for grown men where you watch players compile numbers in another game, generates a billion dollars a year by itself. By now you’re likely familiar with the widely-accepted truth that all that tackling involved in the sport damages players’ brains, often horrifically—Alan Schwarz‘s New York Times reporting on that subject started way back in 2007. But if you watch the sport, you probably don’t care enough to stop watching.
PBS Frontline is going to try to make you care more.
League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis, a documentary airing tonight based on a book that was released today, is the most direct assault on the league to date. The film not only reviews the by-now-at-least-faintly-familiar evidence that football collisions are very bad for you, it exposes the NFL’s attempts to cover up the damage the sport does to young men’s brains. The league’s executives and doctors come off as myopic and foolish at best, and scheming and evil at worst—in story after story, League shows NFL players dying after losing their minds due to what most independent doctors agree is football-induced brain damage, then the NFL is shown repeatedly denying the connectionbetween football and the broken families it has left behind.
Floyd Mayweather Used Justin Bieber as a Decoration
It was just before midnight on Saturday and no one gave a shit that Justin Bieber was in the room. Less than an hour earlier, Floyd Mayweather had badly abused Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in boxing’s biggest event in years, improving his record to 45 wins in 45 paying fights. No one seemed to mind that it was a lopsided matchup unworthy of the months of breathless hype. Now the immaculately coiffed pop star who, aside from the thick chain dangling from his neck, could’ve easily passed for Pony Boy in The Outsiders, was seated on stage as the finest boxer of his generation stood at the dais, testifying to his own greatness and fielding compliments disguised as questions from the media and fans who had negotiated their way into the news conference. That scene provided a sense of perspective on the situation: Bieber is one of the most famous celebrities on the planet, but amid the chaotic aftermath of a Mayweather fight he was a decoration, not unlike a potted plant with designer sunglasses.