John Spragens, Jr. now allow professionals in some sports. The word “amateur” was deleted from the Olympic Charter in 1976, and individual sports federations now decide who is eligible. The United States even sent its pro basketball stars to the 1992 and 1996 Games. Yet the institutionalized prejudice against “professionalism” persists. For many years, black athletes were not allowed to play at the major N.C.A.A. schools. When that barrier finally fell, some coaches didn’t pursue black players until they started losing to schools that did. Now we’ve dropped virtually everything in the amateur myth, except the ban on “play-for-pay” still considered somehow dirty, and unbecomingly professional. Letting kids with 700 or 800 S.A.T. scores into universities is a joke \(a kid gets 400 what side of the tracks the players come from, as long as they can block and tackle \(except and this is a big exception closet If an eighteen-year-old college freshman can sing like Pavarotti, do we expect him to do it for free? Of course not. He can hire a hall and charge big bucks for tickets. Instead of singing, suppose he can run with a football like U.T.’ s Ricky Williams. Millions more will cram stadiums and watch him on television than will see or hear Pavarotti. How do we justify paying Pavarotti, and not Williams? What does being in college have to do with barring anyone from the marketplace? As a freshman at U.T., former Longhorn star Earl Campbell had to DECEMBER 25, 1998 sit in his dorm room on weekends, because he could not afford to buy a girl a Coke. In 1993, Georgia Tech’s switch-hitting catcher Jason Varitek, a consensus All-America, was drafted by the Minnesota Twins but chose to return for his senior year. While awaiting his scholarship, he slept in his car. After the University of Nevada-Las Vegas won the national basketball title in 1990, coach Jerry Tarkanian said the parents of all but two of his players lacked the money to go to Denver for the Final Four. Boosters had offered to fly in the parents, but Tarkanian knew that would outrage the N.C.A.A.’s Mother said, “Yes, my mother would love to have been here. But she’s a cook in an elementary school in Dallas and didn’t have the money. My father? I’ve never seen my father in my life.” A national policy governing “amateur” sports that condones this sort of nonsense deserves to be demolished forthwith. Hell, they ought to have flown Johnson’s mother to Denver first class, and given her one of the choice seats that instead is reserved for N.C.A.A. officials. These leeches live off the talents and sacrifices of players like Mrs. Johnson’s son. They travel to games, stay in the best hotels, wear snappy blazers, and carry themselves importantly in the hospitality rooms. Guardians of the amateur code, they preen like peacocks in the luxury of their power. And their code, their precious amateur code, is based on a lie. Everything about our college football pageantry is professional. Game officials are paid. The cost of tickets is high. The expense of band uniforms and instruments and cheerleader uniforms is high. The cost of stadiums and their upkeep is high especially the new luxfor top coaches are high. Salaries and perks for athletics directors and their myriad assistants are high. The price tag for television commercials is out of sight. We pay for everything even sportswriters on student newspapers get salaries but we won’t pay the players. We dropped after-college amateurism in sports such as tennis years ago, insist upon an ideal based on misbegotten snootiness. If these athletes are amateurs, why do they wear corporate logos on their jerseys gaudiest in bowl games where they are walking billboards for concerns that are anything but amateur? As early as 1992, even high school kids in the Texas all-star football game wore McDonald’ s patches on their jerseys. Kids are being used to sell everything, but they get virtually nothing in return. Some insist an education is pay enough. Indeed, the cost of a college education exceeds the value of marginal players. But the starters are worth much more, and franchise players like Campbell earn millions for their schools. In good public relations alone, Campbell has been worth $10 million to U.T. s Allen Sack and Ellen Staurowsky recall in College Athletes for Hire, “faculty often found themselves at odds with students, alumni, and governing boards when it came to athletic policy. College presidents were often caught in the middle as they tried to reconcile the academic integrity of their institutions with the athletic demands of powerful external constituencies.” Are they talking about the 1980s? No, the 1890s. The value in this book resides in the authors’ compilation of incidents of mass buy ing of college players, in every decade from the 1880s to the THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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