College Player Unions: A Slippery Slope

Syracuse University
(Photo: SU)

One of my gifts is knowing what I don’t know. I know. Not exactly resume material. But still…as a writer, it’s one of my greatest assets. Aside from my wit – ha!

There is much I don’t know about being a student athlete. I struggled juggling sorority life and academics during my days at Syracuse. And that wasn’t nearly as demanding.

Except for this one time…my friend Gina and I hung out at a fraternity house until everyone was asleep, swiped their composite picture off the wall, carried it down Comstock Avenue, and propped it up on the fireplace in our sorority house to greet the sisters of AZD. Our house boys (from the same fraternity) arrived the next morning freaking out about it – while it was staring them in the face from our living room. After much giggling, they eventually figured it out and returned it to its proper place.

Why did I tell that story again?

Oh, ya…

Not exactly the perils of training, travel, and competition. Along with demanding academic standards, depending of course, on which school you attend (not pointing fingers).

I’m sure going to college on a sports scholarship is a lot like going to college with a job (full or part-time). Which, a lot of people do. Because they have no other choice.

Student athletes have a lot on their plates. But they receive a lot in return. An education that is paid for (in whole or in part). The chance to shine on a national stage. And the unique opportunity to be drafted to play the game they love and make millions doing it.

In turn, athletes create opportunity for their schools in attendance, naming rights, and jersey sales. All of which generate money. Lots of money.

It’s a win – win.

Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fair.

In an effort to represent themselves and their unique issues, football players at Northwestern University formed the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA) and won the right to do so through a regional National Labor Relations Board. I have no problem with players organizing to lobby the NCAA on behalf of college athletes. If anything, I applaud their leadership.

Nutrition is just as important as training, so if athletes say a healthy meal plan needs to be part of their scholarship package, I have a hard time arguing with that. Kind of seems like a basic need to me. Expenses like books, transportation and such are also frequently touted.

There is a fine line on some of that stuff. But there’s also a not-so-fine line: payment to players outside of school-related expenses. This is a whole different ballgame. To me, amateur athletics have a unique and sacred place in sports. One I would hate to lose altogether.

Where this goes from here is anyone’s guess. And how the players organize and lobby on behalf of themselves is part of it. But one thing is sure: It’s a slippery slope. One that could permanently alter the landscape of college athletics. And one that needs to be navigated very carefully.

Colleges are academic institutions. They are not training grounds for professional sports. They are not minor league ball clubs. Even if athletics do generate a majority of  the income at some schools.

Students should appreciate college for all that it is. And all that it’s worth. Which is, a  lot. No matter who pays for it. And what you end up with, an education (and some stories to go along with it), will last you far longer than your chosen career, whether you work in an office, a studio, or a stadium.


Disclosure: I do not condone theft. Especially theft of items that value more than $1,000, which constitutes a felony in the State of New York. Besides, the last time I checked (which was a long time ago), Zeta Psi had their composite pictures screwed to the wall. And upon further investigation, I found that the Zeta Psi fraternity is no longer active on the Syracuse University campus. But no one can ever take away my story. Or my education.

Out of the Closet…and Into the NFL

Michael Sam, defensive lineman for the Missouri Tigers

Michael Sam, defensive end for the Missouri Tigers and potential NFL draft pick
(Photo: Brandon Wade | AP)

Ready or not…here he comes!

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam hasn’t even been drafted, but already he’s changing the National Football League as we know it.

A projected third or fourth-round draft pick, Sam is an All-American defensive lineman and SEC Defensive Player of the Year. But, that’s not why he’s making headlines in the NFL draft talk.

You see, Michael Sam is gay. He’s not the first gay athlete to come out publicly. But if he’s drafted in May, he’ll be the first to do so where no one else has…the NFL locker room.

We knew this day would come. It was just a matter of when. In coming out, Sam and his Mizzou teammates set an example for his future team and all teams.

“Sam had in fact told his team at the University of Missouri that he was gay last summer. It was prompted by a simple team-building exercise with a question from a coach: ‘Tell us something we don’t know about you.’ Some of the team had already known. Some were shocked by the news. All of them embraced him. None of them told the media.”
 –Cyd Zeigler, Outsports

In today’s world, there is no player who doesn’t know someone (or isn’t related to someone) who is gay. Still, reaction from players and executives around the league is mixed.

Some say it’s long overdue and that if Sam does his job and performs on the field, his off-the-field life won’t matter to his teammates.

Others insist the media attention and potential locker room issues will cause his draft stock to fall.

Sports Illustrated asked NFL executives and coaches to share their thoughts on Michael Sam (anonymously). Most predicted his path to the NFL would be an uphill battle, even daunting.

“I don’t think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet,” said an NFL player personnel assistant. “In the coming decade or two, it’s going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it’s still a man’s-man game. To call somebody a [gay slur] is still so commonplace. It’d chemically imbalance an NFL locker room and meeting room.”
NFL player personnel assistant to SI

But, here’s the thing. For anything to become acceptable in ten years or twenty years, someone has to take the first step. Today.

And Michael Sam just bravely took it. For himself. For past players. For current players. And for future players.

Whether he gets drafted into the NFL or whether he even plays a game, Michael Sam has already made a legacy for himself.

And it’s a legacy that transcends the locker room, the field, and the game.

Michael Sam changed the face of the NFL.

Before stepping foot on the field.


We’re Crushing: On Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel

What happens when you’re really, really ridiculously good looking and your helmet gets knocked off during a football play? If you’re Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel…this.

Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel with the sexiest football photo ever. (Photo: Getty/Jonathan Daniel)

Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel with the sexiest football photo ever.
(Photo: Getty/Jonathan Daniel)

McDaniel, a junior, rushed for a career high 92 yards during the Irish’s win over the USC Trojans last weekend. But it wasn’t until this shot went viral that he became an instant internet star.

There’s just something about the way he’s breaking tackles, gently cradling the ball, and doing so while staring deep into your soul…with chiseled features, perfectly mussed hair, and sexy smirk to boot.

Usually when a football player loses his helmet, he looks like he lost a few marbles with it. Lately, every time I see the Texans’ J.J. Watt, he’s bleeding profusely from some opening on his face…either organic or man made.

But Cam McDaniel makes football look easy, sexy, and stylish.

If the NFL thing doesn’t work out, the boy’s already got a guaranteed backup plan as a male model.

But this weekend, it’s all about game day and McDaniel will be focused on beating Air Force Academy.

And I’m hoping “Blue Steel” is in his playbook.


On Wisconsin

Saturday night. Around 2:00 AM. I am up. In my living room. Watching the Wisconsin game. Mostly because my friend Jennifer (aka Mustard Girl) is in town and she is from Wisconsin, went to Wisconsin, and brought Bucky Badger Bells to Wisconsin. So, yes. Call her a Wisconsin fan.

Good time with a great friend. And a great game. Until the end.

Badgers quarterback Joel Stave was preparing for what would have been a game winning field goal against Arizona State. Stave claims he took a knee, then set the ball down before placing it for the kick, but before he could do that…a Sun Devil defender jumped the ball and layed on it until the clock ran out. Instead of making a call, the officials made a run for the exit. And the game was over.

And then, this happened…

A tweet from the wife of former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema. The same Bret Bielema who took the head coaching job at Arkansas last December and took off…leaving his players without a coach for the Rose Bowl.

No, honey. That’s not karma. Nice try though. You might want to look up the word karma. And while you’re at it, look up another one…class.

We’ll let you know when karma shows up. But, we probably won’t have to. That’s usually how karma works.

Let us not forget the botched call by the replacement refs that cost the Green Bay Packers a win against the Seahawks last season. As well as the controversial call they had week one of this season against the 49ers.

All this leaves me wondering…why do the officials hate Wisconsin so much? It’s a lovely place. Beautiful country. Nice people.

Football fans who root against Wisconsin teams may find these calls (or lack of) entertaining. But, just wait until Wisconsin secedes from the NFL. And the NCAA. And the USA.

And they take their milk, cheese, beer, and brats with them.

That, Mrs. Bielema, will be karma.