Sports as a means of exploitation

Georgia State Panthers head to the tunnel before taking the feild in their home opener 2021. Photo by Harry Wyman | The Signal

“I love sports, but I really just don’t watch college sport because I know that everything about it is really fucked”, Georgia State University Junior, Isaiah Sanders, said recently. 

He is a longtime sports fan who, like many others, has severe reservations about consuming NCAA sports. 

Much of this has to do with the open exploitation of players within the NCAA, as most critically, players are not guaranteed pay from the organizations for which they play. 

As of 2021, the NCAA has allowed players to receive money for their name, image, and likenesses. However, for over 100 years, they have not permitted schools to pay their players, which doesn’t make much sense when considering the revenue these athletes generate. 

Colleges generated an accumulated $18.9 billion off of sports in 2019. There is more than enough money to go around, but players give up their time, bodies, and years of their life to perform. 

This fact is, of course, the very reason players even play in collegiate programs because it is a prerequisite for playing the sport professionally, which is the only goal for many of these people. 

When they are in college, why are athletes strapped with useless classes that will not be able to prepare them for a career outside of sports? 

This is because these young athletes are typically only valued for their athletic abilities, with not nearly enough emphasis on their lives outside of sports. 

This power dynamic between players, their coaches, parents and other figures in their lives is present throughout their athletic careers no matter how long they are. These aspects of objectification are present from a young age.

When factoring in the disproportionate amount of black players, especially in collegiate football and basketball, these themes of exploitation become all the more apparent. 

The intersection of class and race, which leads many black households to live below the poverty line, makes the prospect of turning one’s child into a sports superstar very alluring, as there is, of course, the possibility of unimaginable upward mobility. 

This drive to turn children into prodigies takes a toll on their mental health and can make them accustomed to the idea that their being is not entirely theirs. The amount of practice and dedication required to compete in athletics at a high level necessitates long hours of training and missing out on many aspects of childhood. 

There is also an entire economy of AAU and travel team coaches, trainers, scouts, and schools, all of which seek to either profit from or make a name off these youth athletes. At the same time, parents must navigate their relationships with their children. 

The exploitation continues and often intensifies for the 2% of high school athletes receiving an athletic scholarship to a D1 school. 

When considering the driving economic forces for a player base of predominantly black athletes attending, playing for, and generating revenue for these primarily white institutions, it raises a lot of questions and concerns about the ethics of the NCAA’s business model, especially as it pertains to financial compensation for athletes. 

One may find the racial disparity at top NCAA schools between athletes and the rest of their student body all the more alarming because HBCUs are often not given the same state funding as their predominantly white counterparts

This creates an environment that reinforces white supremacist attitudes about black men because they are only valued for their physical aptitude.

The culture of toxicity is deeply embedded into the world of sports. The competitive drive around which the entire concept revolves combined with several intertwining profit motives will inevitably cause a chaotically abusive environment for its participants to give the best performance. 

It is difficult to say what needs to be done to “fix” sports as they have proven to be a healthy activity that encourages activity and collaboration. 

As Americans, sports have a protected status in our culture, and thus, sports culture is much like our own. Perhaps the reconciliation in the sports world will be downstream from general society.