Published on: March 28, 2014
This is a subject that, to be honest, I don't know much about … not that I'm inclined to let that stop me from commenting on it.
But I have to say that I tend to agree with the decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that college football players at Northwestern University ought to be allowed to unionize and recognized as employees of the university. (Northwestern has said that it will appeal the ruling.)
I'm not intimately acquainted with all the various ins-and-outs of college athletics, but it has long seemed to me that there is something terribly out of whack about how schools reap hundreds of millions of dollars because of football and basketball programs, coaches are able to negotiate multi-million dollar contracts, and players seem subject to sometimes arcane and arbitrary rules.
It isn't across the board, of course. There are plenty of student athletes who get scholarships, get an education, play football and go on to successful and profitable lives, either in professional sports or elsewhere. (There is a New York Times
story this morning estimating that quarterback Johnny Manziel cost Texas A&M about $120,000 in scholarship money over three years, but that during his time there, donations to the school "rose by $300 million from the previous year to $740 million, a record.") But there are also cases, from what I've read, in which kids with scholarships get hurt on the field and then lose their chance at an education through no fault of their own. Or kids who are so poor that they can't go home to family funerals but can't accept gifts of airline tickets to do so. Or kids who are good enough to play college football but can't go pro, and go through four years of school without getting educated and prepared for life in the real world.
I guess that things would be better if somehow we could go backwards and regain a balance between colleges' educational and athletic programs, but I don't think that this is going to happen. There are too many stadiums out there that have been built with TV money, and too many TV networks that depend on college athletics for programming and resultant ad money.
I'm old fashioned enough, however, to think that at the end of the day, the people who need to be best protected by the system ought to be the kids. Instead, they often seem exploited by a system that seems more about profit than teaching. If the NLRB decision helps to rectify this, if only by positioning students to be in a better position to protect their own long-term and short-term interests, that's probably a good thing. And it will be interesting to see how this decision plays out across the entire college athletics spectrum, and how it affects the NCAA.
A little disruption seems called for.
By the way, speaking of systems that seem economically out of whack … the Major League Baseball season begins in earnest on Sunday night when the Los Angeles Dodgers play the San Diego Padres. And while I would be the first one to agree that the business of baseball seems a little nuts, I'm thrilled that the games that matter begin again this weekend (and that at least right now, the Mets remain in contention for the pennant).
Robert B. Parker used to say that baseball is the most important thing in life that doesn't matter. I agree.
Finally … I continue to get email from MNB readers who liked the stories and picture from last week's trip to Arizona with my 87-year-old dad and two younger brothers. For which I thank you.
I do have one more quick one for you.
My brother Tim recently sat down with our dad, turned on a video camera and essentially interviewed him about his life … growing up in the Bronx, enlisting in the Navy during World War II, falling in love with our mom, and the various jobs he had before becoming a teacher (the first male elementary school teacher in the Larchmont/Mamaroneck public school system, as it happens). It is a fascinating video, confirming some things I knew and informing me about some things I did not. Some of the memories are fuzzy, but some of them - especially the older ones - are razor sharp.
And it is a process that I would recommend to anyone out where with an aging parent. Get this stuff on the record as best you can, because it is both priceless and irreplaceable … and I'm so glad Tim had the foresight to do it.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.