Column By Glenn Guilbeau / GANNETT LOUISIANA
OPINION: BATON ROUGE – Somehow, I can’t see Johnny Manziel writing, “U-n-i-o-n,” on a piece of cardboard and jumping on a table in the middle of the Texas A&M locker room.
The late Crystal Lee Sutton did that at a J.P. Stevens textiles mill in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., in 1973 just after being fired from a job that paid her $2.65 an hour to fold towels. Sally Field starred in the 1979 film, “Norma Rae,” and won an Oscar for her portrayal of Sutton, who died in 2009.
Manziel was a quarterback employee of the Texas A&M Football Program and a member of the College Football Players Union last season in the intellectually cluttered and fantasizing mind of National Labor Relations Board regional director Peter Ohr, whose 24-page Disney-like decision dreamed such things this week.
Ohr wrote that Northwestern University (in Evanston, Ill.) football players, who recently established the College Athletes Players Association and have been lobbying to be recognized as essential workers, do qualify as employees under federal law and therefore can legally unionize and be paid salaries.
What Ohr needs to remember - other than the fact that he should point his brain toward less frivolous and more realistic pursuits – is that Manziel, as an employee, could have been fired on the spot by Texas A&M last year for the way he played in a 34-10 loss at LSU when he went 16-of-41 with two interceptions.
If so, Johnny Football, which would be copyrighted, could have jumped on a trainer’s table and wrote “Autographs” on the back of a playbook. Then as he walked out, he would have proceeded to sign jerseys, jocks and helmets while collecting cash from Pell Grant- and per diem-rich teammates, some of whom may or may not have had a little extra cash from the usual under the table sources present at most big colleges for decades.
College football players, Mr. Ohr, do not need to be treated as employees. They are already being paid, legally I mean. It’s called a scholarship, and that is one of the many sophisticated sources of barter that can make the life of a typical college athlete quite grand. They do not need unions. They have agents in waiting, and some not waiting.
While a lot of spending money is not available to athletes on scholarship, those from low income families can get several thousands of dollars a year through the billion-dollar funded Pell Grants, something that never seems to be included in broadcaster Jay Bilas’ pro-pay arguments.
Something also not often spoken about is the fact that student-athletes can work. According to LSU’s compliance office, about half of its football players work on the side during the spring and summer. Some jobs are easier than others, and football and basketball job programs have been investigated by the NCAA. But if these kids really need money, they can legally work.
Most college athletes also have the finest medical treatment and advice for free. Ever notice when an athlete gets seriously injured, he or she has surgery like a day later? It takes other students weeks to even get an appointment. LSU’s football program has handfuls of doctors, orthopedics, counselors, trainers and strength/conditioning coaches at every athlete’s disposal. And they stop LSU athletes from continuing to play with concussions. Ask former LSU football player Josh Williford and former LSU women’s basketball player Jeanne Kenney about that.
Most student-athletes have the finest rehabilitation and exercise centers that would cost thousands a year for membership.
State of the art academic centers have become major recruiting tools aimed at the parents of star prospects, and they can also help an athlete behave like a student as well. Tutors will go over their homework assignments and prepare them for tests as if they were in the fifth grade. And in some cases, they have taken tests for athletes.
The bigger colleges have sports communication and media relations staffs large enough to field their own baseball team. They offer free brand building advice to any athlete who takes the time to ask. Former LSU quarterback Stephen Rivers, for example, is working for LSU’s sports information office now before he transfers elsewhere.
Football players at the bigger schools get to participate in a Job Fair on their campus every spring. It’s called Pro Day. LSU will have one on April 9. Prospective employers will be there from the NFL, which, Mr. Ohr, treats players as employees if they are good enough – much as in the real world, which you should join. And funny thing, many of these NFL players yearn for their days as a non-employed college football player on scholarship with enough fringe benefits for free – if interested in partaking - to make a movie like “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Even wayward athletes feast for free in college. Former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, for example, got plenty of free psychological counseling from LSU as it tried to help him kick his marijuana issues.
Technically, schools cannot pay for the legal services of their student-athletes, but it sure seems like a lot of these arrested players get pretty high profile attorneys to represent them. And it is often the same lawyer. Maybe said attorney cannot be paid with a check from said school, but who is to say that access to tickets and suites may not serve as a permanent retainer?
In the case of twice-arrested and twice-not-jailed former LSU tailback Jeremy Hill, some of his court dates were conveniently scheduled around his football season. The Baton Rouge legal system even was nice enough to move up one of his probation hearings to the very day the Tigers started practice last summer. Even though he violated his probation with another arrest while on probation, he received no jail time and reported to the practice field that very day.
Yet, the national radio show, “SVP & Russillo on Thursday discussed how colleges and conferences like the SEC continue to make millions on the backs of an unpaid labor force. Please. Go watch “12 Years a Slave,” before making inappropriate “on the back” references. Texas A&M football made a lot of money before Manziel, will make a lot of money after Manziel and would have made a lot of money without Manziel. The mechanism was already there courtesy of the backs of many paid workers for decades. Manziel just joined for free.
College athletes are paid handsomely with an opportunity at freebies galore, not the least of which is an education. The tools to make money are offered for free to all athletes even if they never go pro. It is their job to take advantage of them. It is no one’s job to pay them for accepting a free education.
Yes, college football and basketball make a lot of money. And a lot of that money goes toward scholarships for athletes in those sports like swimming and tennis and golf and track and field that make no money. Pretty good system.
Football players should not be paid salaries on top of all this. The really good ones who can make a strong argument for additional compensation, like Manziel, will get that when they go pro anyway. The rest will just have to be satisfied with what they make of their free education void of any lingering student loans. Such poor souls.
They system is working. Look at how smart the Northwestern players who started this movement are, and look at how far their Civics class project has traveled. Look at Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who testified to Ohr and to the NLRB that Northwestern’s football program steered him away from difficult pre-med courses so he could focus on football, thus foiling his dream to become a doctor. You could’ve made your own schedule, Kain. The poor kid. Now he has to play in the NFL, which is expected to draft him and pay him a lot of money in May.
You can also go to med school while you’re playing in the NFL, Kain. Others have. You’ll have just have to pay for it this time. Or your family will. And they should have some extra money. Tuition and room and board at Northwestern is $59,389 a year. That’s about $240,000 your family saved over four years because you played football. And you never got fired even though your team had losing seasons in 2011 and 2013 with you at quarterback.
Yeah, you really need a union.