People were outraged when basketball player Rashad McCants admitted on an episode of ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that student athletes pay tutors to write their term papers. What the former University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill basketball player revealed wasn’t a big surprise to me. But the sports world freaked out and commentators, columnists, and fans bickered over ethics, the lack of oversight in the NCAA, and the opportunistic nerds who get the athletes A's.
For years, I willingly did homework for a number of student athletes. To this day, I don’t consider any of it unethical. It all started back in 2007, when I was finishing up my degree in radical economics at the University of Utah, which is also a Division I school. To help cover food and booze, I worked a variety of odd jobs including tutoring undergrads.
Tutoring worked like this: I’d tell the campus tutoring center which classes I could tutor, and when a student came in and asked for help in one of those subjects, the center would pair us together. The students would pay $10 for a “slip” from the tutoring center. They’d give me that slip at the end of each session and I’d turn it back into the tutoring center and wait for my measly check. I made a whopping $6.25 per hour, which was just enough for a pint and a bagel. The school pocketed the leftover $3.75 an hour—I guess they had to make theirs too, on top of my massive tuition and the beaucoup bucks coming in from sporting events.
Michelito Lagravere is 16. The day he was born, his bullfighter father was battling a bull. At four years old, Lagravere would run around his house with a towel and “fight” his pet dog. He killed his first calf at six. At 11, he killed six bulls in a single day. By age 14, Lagravere officially turned into the youngest bullfighter ever.
For this episode of Profiles by VICE, we went to Merida, on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, to meet this young bullfighter, his parents, and his younger brother André “El Galo,” who is poised to follow in his brother’s footsteps. The Lagravere brothers are destined for greatness in an old (and questionable) Mexican tradition.
Lelo is the Georgian version of rugby, only with fewer rules, no time limits, and an indiscriminate number of players. It’s been played in the region for centuries, and it’s still big in southwestern Georgia, where the village of Shukhuti holds a match every Easter Sunday in remembrance of the dead.
Two creeks, set about 150 yards apart, mark the goal lines for each team, which are made up of local residents, though anyone is free to join in. Between the creeks is a playing field full of houses, yards, and a road. The object of the game is simple: whichever team makes it back to its creek with the 35-pound ball wins. It’s a game that’s meant to test players’ passion, strength, faith, and devotion, and it gets pretty violent as the gangs of burly men stampede through the village—fences, saplings, and the occasional bone often end up broken in the melee.
Winning a game of lelo doesn’t just mean beating your opponent, it’s also a tribute to those who are no longer with the winning team, and the ball is placed on the grave of a deceased villager after the match.
Earlier this year I traveled to Nou, a fishing town on the north coast of Japan, to visit a sumo training academy. The country’s unofficial national sport dates back over 2,000 years. Rigorous daily training must be upheld in order to prepare the fighters for bouts that can be won or lost in seconds, and this school is where that regime starts for the sport’s future champions.
These children and teenagers eat, sleep, train, and study together 24 hours a day, with sumo training and preparation taking up their mornings and other studies their afternoons. They will remain at this school for six years, preparing their minds and building their bodies in the hope of becoming professional sumo wrestlers.
China has never had much luck promoting football. You don’t often see it played on the streets, in backyards, or schoolyards. Yet there are growing grassroots football sub-cultures developing in unexpected places. We travel with one of Beijing’s most prestigious independent teams to a Naxi village in the rural southwest to see what happens when old and new China mix on the pitch.
This Guy Played for Gaddafi’s Basketball Team at the Start of the Libyan Revolution
There are a few things to expect when you start playing basketball at an international level: a grueling training regime, competitive teammates, and maybe some kind of sponsorship deal involving toiletries or luminous drinks. Stuff you generally don’t prepare yourself for, however, is almost starving to death while the army shoots at civilians just outside your apartment, being forced to survive on cockroaches and toilet water and fleeing a country by way of a border occupied by rebel guards.
That’s what happened to Alex Owumi, an American ball player who moved to Benghazi, Libya after being recruited by Al-Nasr, a team owned by the Gaddafi family. Alex arrived at the end of 2010 and enjoyed a few months as the team’s point guard, before the revolution broke out in February of 2011 and he found himself trapped in his apartment—a lavish place owned by Gaddafi’s son, Mutassim—without any food or electricity.
With little contact to the outside world, he survived by eating worms and drinking toilet water – his teeth turning rotten and the pigment on his face discolouring—until he got a call from his former coach, who smuggled him over the border to Egypt. After arriving in Alexandria, he recovered and started playing for the city’s El Olympi, helping them win 13 games in a row and eventually take the championship.
I gave him a call to talk about his experience, the Gaddafi family and how the revolution changed his outlook on life.
VICE: So, that’s quite an experience you went through. Can you tell me how you ended up in Libya?
Alex Owumi: It was a pretty bad time for me as a player, then my manager phoned me up and told me there was this team in Libya that wanted me to play for them. At that point it was either doing this for me or going back home. And I was welcomed there with open arms.
Did you know at that point that it was Gaddafi’s team you were going to play for? I didn’t find out it was Gaddafi’s team until I first got into my apartment. It was all beautiful and state of the art, but I noticed there were also quite a lot of pictures of Gaddafi and his grandkids. That’s when I finally asked my team captain whose apartment this was, and he told me it belonged to the Gaddafi family.
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.