My Humble Opinionated Analysis: Sports
“The 400 is a man’s race.” I overheard spectators say as I lined up in the blocks of the fourth lane. It was my junior year and after months of training, it was time to run the 400 meter dash in under 50 seconds. I knew I could do it, I knew I would do it, and I knew it would be that day.
“On your mark”. Knees are bent, hands are behind the line, head is down. “Set!” Breathe and talk to the God you hope is there. The gun sounds and the world you’ve become so used to becomes silent. It’s amazing how long a minute of silence can be. The trees become your audience, watching you as your greatest silent supporters. You lean in just a bit and bite the curve. Run it hard. You hit the back stretch and let your form set in. Knees up. Mouth and jaw loose. Breathe and just relax. Before you know it, you’ve finished your 200 meters, halfway there. The following curve comes and goes as students in passing and you’re left with 100 meters. You see the flags, you feel the world opening, the clock is ticking. Sound begins to fight with your silence. That security those trees once gave you have turned to parents, screaming as if they feel your heartbeat. The faces become clearer, you feel your opponents creeping up on you, hold on, just hold on…and you finish. 49 seconds.
You’ve made it, you’ve done it. Now, do it again. Next time, make it 48 seconds.
In the spring of my junior year, a month after my trip to Indoor Nationals, I decided track wasn’t my world anymore. My first self-prescribed dose of satisfaction came not from the moments of breathlessness with the grass on my back, but from the release of knowing I never had to strap on spikes again. I wanted theatre. I wanted music. I wanted, me.
I have had enough of the exploitation of the college athlete. Enough. It’s ridiculous, from the commercialized basketball player, to the under-appreciated cheerleader, to the overlooked swimmer. Do you have a clue when their season starts? July begins workouts. August brings in “one on ones”. September has its full practices. October has full scrimmages. November, ah the sweet and well-deserved beginning of the ACTUAL. REGULATED. SEASON. Months pass and the season might finish, MIGHT finish in March.
That’s just basketball
Football and track are nearly year long with only one two to three week breaks. Cheerleading, volleyball and soccer are just a few more that hold true to this rigorous schedule as well.
It gets better.
Did you know that study halls for athletes in most cases are mandatory? Sure, an athlete can opt out of study hall with a certain GPA, of 3.0. It should not be overlooked of just how difficult it can be to balance school, work, and extra curricular activities on a regular basis. Of course in today’s day and age, it’s impossible to solidify yourself/career without these qualities. Each week, athletes (according to NC State) must have a minimum of six study hall hours, in which they work in cubicles, while being monitored.
And no, they cannot work in another space to receive credit for their hours.
It gets better.
NC State is 46th in the nation for top revenue for NCAA finances, bringing in an astounding 70.5 million dollars while UNC brings in 83.7 million according to NCAA finances. They are 46th in the nation, making 70 million dollars. I don’t know what’s more appalling. The fact that a university is making 70 million dollars off of 500 students, or the fact they are 46th in doing so.
Oh… But, athletes don’t get paid. Let’s not even go in on the merchandise that athletes don’t profit from.
“Don’t Blame the System”
That is the unspoken sentence that SportsCenter subliminally tells the viewer in every 6 P.M. program, every First Take, and in every “Johnny Manziel Ridicule”, “Don’t blame the system”. They tell you not to bash the fact that the NCAA is one of the most profitable “non-profit” sports-based organizations in America. They tell you not to bash the fact that these athletes are spending ten hours more on their sports than on their academics. All they have to say is: Don’t blame the system. Oh no, it’s not the fact that respective athletic programs are making profits averaging upwards of 9-digits, or that coaches are making hundreds of thousands of dollars, (even in lower level Division I and Division II programs) or that budgets for buildings, stadiums and practice facilities are constantly changing (better yet, rising). Don’t blame the system. Don’t talk about the 9 different standard minimum dish cable channels based specifically for sports. Don’t talk about the trillion dollar NFL and multi-billion dollar NBA institutions. Don’t talk about the concussions. Don’t talk about the slave-like work schedules. Don’t talk about how their childhood dreams are limited to 3–4 years of actual playing time. Don’t blame the system.
So you can’t blame the organizations, you can’t blame the ridiculous standards or the astonishing amounts of money being passed around the 1% of owners, so who can you blame? Coaches, of course, but more importantly athletes.
Yes, the athletes
The ones who barely knew better. The ones who can’t help but invest their bodies into a craft just to see a better way of life. The ones who never had an authentic “college experience”, hell, rarely had a regular childhood-social experience. Have you ever read about what Joe Jackson did to make his iconic son Michael? We know about the Michael who moonwalked his way into Time Magazine, but we don’t about the Michael who lost a childhood mentality putting his “10,000 hours” into a craft before the age of eight. The imbalance of “all work, no play” will destroy you. Michael made a “neverland” to make up for his lack thereof. The same applies to sports, just ask Johnny Manziel why he can’t stop drinking and fighting. Stephen A. Smith will tell you it’s immaturity, and while this is partly true, one can’t overlook the fact he was a household name before he could legally drink. Let’s not overlook the fact that he is consistently ridiculed in and outside of the sports world, and he just turned 23. I’m only 20 and I couldn’t fathom not being able to walk into a store without someone “tweeting” about or “snapchatting” me
The sports system will raise athletes up to do only what they are told on and off the field, and the moment there is a lapse of reasoning, a slip-up in judgment and decision (in whatever way), they are destroyed. An “allegation” turns into a guilty party, and that’s usually the athlete. It’s hard to be a “person” when you can’t be yourself. It’s harder for people to see who you are, when all they see is how good you are at what you do. You can mess up, sure, but whether you remain loved within the sports world is dependent on how successful you are/have been.
Let’s take a look at these beautiful double standards:
Kobe rapes a woman (after two championships for the Lakers) and LA gives him a thumbs up 6 years later for a championship. Michael Phelps gets caught for smoking weed (after 8 gold medals) and wins some more medals and all is forgotten. Hope Solo saves her team into a gold medal for USA Women’s Soccer and you can’t tell me the last time she got press coverage for her abuse claims. Michael Vick and Ray Rice would have the same story if they brought world title’s to their respective teams and that is a fact.
The athlete’s life is not a game. Rigorous hours from the ages of 5 to 18, lead to an irregular mentality of life, and may lead to a career. Yet, here’s what they give you as you sign your contract, a large unspoken statement saying “Don’t start an uprising against us, don’t get hurt, and don’t you dare blame the system.
A month after Indoor Nationals, I laid on the ground after my unsuccessful, 4th place, 400 meter dash. Breathless and ashamed, I had no idea it would be my last. A week later I told my coach I would not be coming back to the program. No injuries, no regrets, but an understanding that my athletic days were over, and bitter aftertaste my coach and I have yet to wash down to this day. I hung my cleats and my spikes up for more reasons than one. Sure I could have made it, I may not have, but at what expense? A few thousand dollars? An endorsement deal?
It’s hard not to come off as a hypocrite when I indulge these sports programs, when I listen to SportsCenter-based podcasts, or when I attend NC State athletic events. However, as I mature, I understand that although not every athlete goes through these exploitations and not all come out battered and bruised, there is still an unequal transaction going on between these athletes and their owners. As I typed that last sentence, the words finally sunk in: these athletes and their owners. I am left puzzled and concerned about where sports will go from here. Sadly I, as well as everyone else, knows it’s not going anywhere, any time soon.
Continue to burn that which hinders you. Some call it doubt, I call it, Breeze. Thanks for your time.