College athlete exploitation has gone on for too long

Reagan Stuart

Last Thursday, on the first night of the NFL Draft, we were all privy to a tragic scandal. Offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil was subjected to humiliation on live, national television as a video of consuming marijuana was posted to his Twitter feed just before the draft was set to begin. Immediately after the release of the video, Tunsil’s draft stock began to drop.

Tunsil is an extremely talented player and was projected to be one of the first players selected. Being one of the first picks in the draft is extremely lucrative; last year’s first four picks all received contracts worth over $20 million across four years. Had Tunsil been drafted where he was projected, he too would’ve received a contract of this magnitude. Instead, Tunsil dropped from a projected top five pick to number 13, the slide costing him an estimated $10-12 million. All of this despite the fact that the video is over two years old and Tunsil never failed a drug test in his college career.

After he was drafted, screenshots were posted to Tunsil’s Instagram account of his text conversations with a Mississippi football coach in which he explicitly asks the coach for help paying his rent as well as his mother’s electric bill, clearly in violation of NCAA rules regarding the payment of players. Later that day, when directly asked if he had received payment, Tunsil responded in the affirmative, remarking, “I’d have to say yeah.”

So what are we to make of this situation? A good starting point may be the words of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. When asked about the incident, Goodell stated, “I think it’s all part of what makes the draft so exciting.” The statement reeks of the exploitation that high-level athletes are submitted to. In the face of a young man’s embarrassment and severe financial loss, Goodell could only think of television ratings. Goodell said nothing about helping Tunsil cope with the stress of the situation or about ensuring that this does not happen to future players. It almost sounds like Goodell thought Tunsil’s shame was a good thing.

Perhaps more interesting is how Tunsil’s admission of receiving payment will affect the ongoing debate about amateurism in college sports. Tunsil’s talents clearly financially benefited the University of Mississippi more than the $300 he asked for rent. This seems to be a case where breaking the rule was the right thing to do. Asking for help paying your mom’s electric bill is not a moral transgression.

What remains to be seen is how Mississippi will be punished. It will be compared to the concurrent investigation into the Baylor football program in which Baylor is accused of failing to properly investigate rape allegations made against some of its players. The NCAA should be more concerned with the well-being of students than with protecting the fragile, outdated notion of amateurism.

Many powerful institutions want to profit off the hard work that the players put in. We should be careful to remember that athletes are our are classmates and deserve to be treated as people, not as commodities.

Stuart is a business honors and Plan II sophomore from Lubbock. Follow him at @realreaganstu.