Are You Being Exploited By March Madness?
Nathaniel Friedman
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I think you’ve hit on a number is issues all of which are important to tease out here:

  1. The idea of empathy or emotional engagement with basketball players being somehow more pronounced or significant than with other sports. First thing to look at is whether this phenomena of engagement, which, as you state, is largely due to a spectator’s ability to see/explore/‘visually palpate’ the players given how exposed they are on the court (e.g., no headgear or padding). If this is true — and part of me thinks it is — let’s look at other sports (esp olympic ones too) to see if we can really substantiate this claim. I agree that our ability to foster empathy or have any kind of emotional engagement toward another is particularly fostered through perception of faces and an unobstructed view of what people are doing in a situation. Yes, tons of empirical stuff to back this up. (Side note: this is kind of my wheel-house. I’ve got peer-reviewed published work on face perception that I’m happy to share)
  2. The ‘Indentured’ phenomena:
    This is a super hot issue. I think something that is very real and something that we need to really break down into further problem. This ranges from everything to changing NCAA rules, giving student athletes an actual education/compensation that is fair (or, at the very least ‘makes sense’) to the possibility of implementing a kind of ‘debriefing’ or system of transition that kids should have to go through from being rock stars to going into the real world, with what little of an education they might have accrued during their 40–60hr a week sports/training schedules. (“So you used to make tons of money and had significant fame by playing a game, now you have a degree in communications. What now?”)
  3. What moral obligation do we fans/spectators/parents etc. have to these students given their situation? What can/should we do?

My questions is exactly how all these things are related — i.e., how does 1 relate to 2&3? For if there is, in fact, some kind of emotional mechanism we can demonstrate that is being exploited by the NCAA then there might be an even more effective case against figuring out a solution to 2. While I would love to think one could make a case out of it, I’m dubious.

I do think there is real room for improve and chance — not willing to accept defeat just yet. The plight is real and we are not “attacking amateurism”; it’s not a pickup game at the youth center, it’s a multimillion dollar business, nothing amateur about it.

Finally I really don’t see much of an existential plight, so much as a question about the moral obligation of players and fans. The author of “Indentured” brought up a good point when we said that major changes could be made if the players really got active about it (boycotted etc.) but that takes major guts and a willingness to give up fame, money, and their ‘education’ (although if the education itself sub-par at best, maybe we are just worrying about fame and money).

Existential plights are here to stay for every student athlete and every fan….but hey that’s life. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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