“Student Athlete”: LeBron James and Springhill Ent. expose NCAA corruption

A few weeks before last year’s March Madness tipped off, the NCAA received a bunch of allegations related to pay-for-play opportunities. Allegedly, several coaches dodged standard recruiting methods by sending illegal bribes to sway the outcome of players’ decisions. In October, LeBron James and his production company, Springhill Entertainment, highlighted the hypocrisy and amateurism model used by the NCAA sports system with the film, “Student Athlete.”

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 Shining a light on exploitation

“Student Athlete” grabbed the attention of the NCAA during its HBO debut, which took place Oct. 2. The film directors are human rights storytellers Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Trish Dalton. From James’ Springhill camp, Maverick Carter and Jamal Henderson will assist with production. United Master’s Steve Stoute brought the idea to the table with the goal of exposing the corrupt environment within the NCAA and the inherent unfairness of the college sports system.

The film explores the narrative that players commit to substantial sacrifices of time, mind and body to generate success for their teams by any means, and reap none of the rewards. Some of these methods include taking risks like, “Fake Courses” to keep their team’s GPA above standard. “Student Athlete” depicts real moments of exasperation and the exploitative nature of this industry to further bolster the high revenue schemes and greed from the corporate executives at the top.

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“Student Athlete” can be viewed through the eyes of athletes Nick Richards ( who played at same prep school as Kyrie Irving), Mike Shaw (who is from the same class as Anthony Davis), Shamar Graves (lives out of his car to seek professional career) and Silas Nacita (once homeless and punished for receiving a place to stay while in high school) and former Purdue coach John Shoop.

The story details the unjust rules instituted by the NCAA and the ways it affects athletes and their families. Although many athletes receive scholarships, they often struggle to find enough time in the day to be students because the NCAA treats them as full-time, free labor employees. They are often ill-equipped to handle academic demands and have less time to take challenging courses. This film shows the ways that athletes miss out on education due to the amount of time spent perfecting their athletic ability as full-time cash cows for the NCAA.

“The coaches are making millions of dollars and they’re coaching players whose parents live below the poverty line. If you’re a reasonable person, it’s insane to build a $150 million recruiting facility, pay your head coach $10 million, the rest of your staff $20 million cumulative, but then say there’s not enough money to help the players” stated John Shoop. Shoop was fired from Purdue University, West Lafayette, and has yet to land another position due to his strong stance of advocacy for players’ rights.

Walter Byers, the first executive director of the NCAA, attributed such abuses to the “neo-plantation mentality that exists on the campuses of our country and in the conference offices and in the NCAA.”

Student athletes: money vs. title

In 2017, the NCAA raked in nearly $1.1B in total income. The Big Ten Conference signed a fat contract with television partners to host athletic programming for $2.64B. The athletes produce the outcomes for these contracts but see none of the income. “Student Athlete” shines a light on the fact that they are only useful for streams of revenue. The students’ participation is directly tied to a money grab, but their significant contributions do not translate to compensation.

Athletes often have their eligibility questioned and are required to deny small tokens of appreciation such as a pair of gifted sneakers or a paid dinner. The NCAA places certain rules on student-athletes that prevent schools from giving them any sort of benefits. The arcane guidelines and restrictions imposed often invite corner-cutting and cheating to maintain survival. Students are almost always punished for seeking deals or assistance to stay afloat even if they are from the most impoverished backgrounds and their families continue to struggle.

Out of the nearly 92,000 athletes that participated in NCAA football and basketball over the course of the 2016-2017 season, only 303 of them were selected to the NBA or the NFL. The rest are left to fend for themselves, and to hope that their academic standing or reputation can put food on the table. The only party reaping all of the rewards is the NCAA system itself. Most players who fuel the success and ratings are left without permanent benefits beyond paid admission (and some do not even qualify for that).

The term “student athlete” is meant to conjure the nobility of amateurism and the idea that scholarship holds precedence over athletic endeavors. The phrase is a result of a sophistic formulation by the NCAA which designed the term specifically to ward off responsibility for any potential workers compensation claims for injured football players.

The NCAA boasts byzantine rules and a significant compensation divide between owners, executives and coaches. It is a revolving door that cares little for the health or education of the proletariat class that fuels the outcome in their entirety. These athletes propel a billion dollar industry and in return they receive a sweatsuit, if the rules allow.

As the NCAA’s reputation continues to take a hit under the weight of an FBI investigation, this film definitely streamlines the corruption discussion and illuminates the rights that student athletes deserve across the country.


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