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The Shocking College Athlete Rip-Off: Now They’re Fighting Back

From brain trauma risk to poor compensation, student athletes are getting swindled. Here's why you should care.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Jeff Schultes | Shutterstock.com

 

The leader of the group that just pulled off an unprecedented collective protest by NCAA athletes told Salon such actions will escalate this season.

During nationally televised college football games on Saturday, 28 total players wore the slogan “APU” — short for “All Players United” – on their wrist tape or elsewhere on their bodies. Players from the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech and Northwestern took part.

“I think it’s the first time the players have shown a sign of unity in terms of NCAA reform on TV … during games,” said former linebacker Ramogi Huma, the founder of the National College Players Association. Huma told Salon that reaction to the protest has “all been positive,” spurring more players to join. He said players intend to keep wearing the APU slogan on the field “until NCAA sports reform is achieved in a way that satisfies the players,” and that the action “will get bigger and bigger” before the regular football season concludes.

Huma said the protesting players’ “number one issue is trying to minimize the risk of brain trauma in contact sports.”

“It’s a very big issue,” Huma told Salon, “and the NCAA has done virtually nothing.” Huma cited internal NCAA emails from 2010, filed in court as part of a lawsuit and reported by the Washington Times, in which NCAA director of health and safety David Klossner was asked whether federal concussion recommendations for juvenile sports “would go beyond what is required at the college level.” (Klossner responded, “Well since we don’t currently require anything all steps are higher than ours.”)

Noting the “big dust-up” over Ohio State players who allegedly violated NCAA rules by accepting tattoos for autographs, Huma charged that conversely, “had those very players been put back in the game with concussions, there would have been no consequences.”

Huma told Salon the APU effort was also aimed at pressuring the NCAA to boost graduation rates through creating a trust fund to “incentivize and support” players, and at “making sure that players are never stuck with medical expenses or lose their scholarships when they’re injured.”

Huma noted that current NCAA rules allow universities to cancel scholarships and medical coverage for athletes injured on the field, and prohibit universities from replacing athletic scholarships with non-athletic scholarships when a player is dropped from the team. The NCAA, charged Huma, would rather schools “save a buck and excuse themselves from their stated obligation of educating that player.” With “over a billion dollars in new revenue” coming in, said Huma, “there should be more support for the players,” rather than all the cash “going to the places where it usually goes”: luxury boxes and six-figure salaries. NCPA has also called for college athletes to be allowed to sign endorsement deals, and for stipends they receive to be hiked to better reflect the true cost of attending college.

Asked about the protesting players and their platform, NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn emailed a statement saying simply, “As a higher education association, the NCAA supports open and civil debate regarding all aspects of college athletics. Student-athletes across all 23 sports provide an important voice in discussion as NCAA members offer academic and athletic opportunities to help the more than 450,000 student-athletes achieve their full potential.”

The NCAA has long maintained that its rules and regulations, and the “Principle of Amateurism” supporting them, are in the best interests of the “student-athletes” on the field. But many so-called student-athletes disagree.

Then-UCLA punter Jeff Locke, who signed up most of his team on an NCPA petition, last year told Salon, “I don’t see how you can really describe it as anything but a job being an athlete. You work the equivalent hours … you get paid in the form of a scholarship.”