Friday, January 31, 2014

Masters And Servants

If you talked about major news items with your friends or co-workers this week, it's likely you only hit on one of a few topics - the State of The Union, or the upcoming Super Bowl this weekend, or maybe the polar blast that caused a massive mess throughout the South.

Chances are also good that you talked about President Obama's executive action to raise the minimum wage for all new federal contracts. The President wasn't kidding when he said that if Congress - especially the Republicans - aren't going to take action, he'd take some actions himself, and encourage businesses and states to take similar actions. On the issue of increasing the minimum wage, the White House has already been pushing this kind of action for much of the last year - and thirteen states started 2014 doing just that: Raising their own minimum wage.

Everyone from the President, to us, to Will Saletan, has highlighted this week what poll after poll has shown. What Americans really want, more than almost anything else, isn't just a few more pennies in their paychecks. What Americans want is to know that their hard-working labor, of any kind, is going to be rewarded honestly, through a combination of wages, benefits, safety protections, and working conditions.

In other words, the argument against economic inequality in America shouldn't be simply that no American should end up chained to a corporation or institution. Rather, the argument in favor of economic justice should start with the opportunity for everyone to earn a living wage, and grow from there. Economic justice isn't solely about money.

With that fact firmly in mind, we hope you saw a story pointed out to us by sports reporter for The Nation, Dave Zirin. This week, quarterback Kain Coulter and his fellow football players at Northwestern University became the first team in the history of college athletics to begin the process to form a union.

Frankly, we think action like this is long overdue - and we're not the only ones.

Recent Alabama graduate and former quarterback AJ McCarron feels the same - and laid out the basic argument for paying student athletes to Fox Sports this week, in a clear and convincing fashion.

McCarron said, "When I was at Alabama in ’09, I think revenue when we won the national championship that year was like $62 million. And when we won it in New Orleans (in 2011), it was like $78 million. Then when we beat Notre Dame in 2012, it was like $92 million. I mean that’s absurd money. And with players’ jerseys being sold and them not seeing any of that, and then [player's likenesses] being used for video games, I think eventually something’s gotta give and players end up being paid."

As Kain Coulter told ESPN, and as Dave Zirin noted, it's not just about the money.

College players of all kinds today realize that - much like their counterparts in professional sports - they're damaging their bodies, some severely. Meanwhile, colleges and universities rake in millions from the performances of those athletes, while many of those players will be buried in medical bills and student debt for the rest of their lives.

This weekend, our staff members will be watching the Super Bowl, and likely some other great college sports. Those athletes, coaches, and trainers will have invested years, tears, sweat, and blood into performances that will have millions on their feet, and put millions more into the pockets of NFL team owners, advertisers, colleges, and universities.

So many college athletes today are effectively indentured servants who will never see a dime of those millions, chained to their sport in return for a partial payment of their education, at best. That fact should make any American who believes in hard work and just rewards think twice about jeering Kain Coulter and his teammates for joining the union.

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