Penn State and institutionalized slavery

No improprieties here. What we will not tolerate, though, is Reggie Bush receiving anything for his labor.

One thing that has been getting lost in the story of an old football coach raping little boys, is the extent to which major college sports exploit kids every day and get away with it. As one of my favorite commentators puts it:

To be sure, the standard thing is to exploit teenagers rather than 10-year-olds. The standard thing is to exploit them financially rather than sexually. But using positions of power to mistreat young people for personal benefit is what the job is all about.

Obviously physical rape is intuitively if not actually worse than financial rape, but the fact that our society tolerates the brutal financial exploitation (institutionalized servitude at best and a kind of slavery at worst) of big-time college sports is pretty horrendous too. These guys, or teenagers, don’t get paid, aren’t reimbursed for the sale of their own memorabilia, can’t lobby for longer or better scholarships (i.e., contracts), wear a whole bunch of Nike logos on national television every week while getting nothing for it, etc. We just seem to feel that because high-school seniors want to participate in the system that the system is okay.

The Atlantic ran an excellent piece on this a few months back.

It’s horrible that McQueary et al. looked the other way when confronted with explicit evidence that the raping of little boys was going on. Yet the financial raping of their slightly older brethren no one cares about. Even our President takes time to go on TV and fill out a bracket in support of a tournament the royalties of which go only to advertisers, clothing companies, athletic departments, head coaches and ESPN, which is probably the most egregious perpetrator in the whole sordid college-sports-scape.* Nothing to the players though, who generally lose scholarships, don’t graduate and don’t own any rights to their work.

The argument for preserving “the sanctity of college sports” isn’t exactly like the argument for preserving the sanctity of the plantation, but it sure sounds (and looks) a lot like it. While in the one case slaves were told to work for no pay because of rewards they would receive in the afterlife, in the other case athletes are told to work for no pay because of the rewards they will receive in the after-college-life.

* College Football Gameday is just one of the many programs in which ESPN exploits the unpaid labor of teenagers for profit. There are many, many reasons to bemoan the ESPNization of American culture. For one, ESPN floods the airwaves with giant, orange pundits in Italian suits who clearly don’t know how to swim. For another, the basic currency of their punditry is cliche, hype, platitude and pablum. But perhaps the worst thing they do is perpetuate this ridiculous idea that it’s somehow morally wrong for a college athlete to trade his labor for money or gifts.

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