Barack Obama Explains Why He Believes College Athletes Should Be Paid

Barack Obama Explains Why He Believes College Athletes Should Be Paid

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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

Former United States President Barack Obama appeared on the The Bill Simmons Podcast with Simmons and Bakari Sellers on Thursday and touched on a number of topics, including college athletics.

Most notably, Obama said he believed college athletes should be paid, or at the very least be able to make money off their name and likeness (h/t Dan Wolken of USA Today):

“I think that the amount of money that is being made at the college level, the risks that let’s say college football players are being subjected to and the fact that for many of these colleges, what these young people are doing are subsidizing athletic director salaries, coach salaries. All of that argues for a better economic arrangement for them, and I think there is a way of doing that that doesn’t completely eliminate the traditions and the love we all have for college sports.

“It just means that if Zion Williamson or a Trevor Lawrence or somebody is participating in those sports and somebody, the local car dealer or what have you who as it is, is probably already a booster and doing a whole bunch for that university wants to also help that student with their parents or facilitate them being able to get a better training situation for their next stage, that penalizing those kids when everybody else is benefiting does not make sense to me. And when you look at the history of the NCAA and how it developed, it developed specifically to insulate these institutions from claims made by these students. The whole myth of student-athletes really evolved in part because early on football players who are being brought in as ringers on these teams were getting hurt and then suing for workers’ comp and suddenly the colleges figured out if we form this association and create this ideal of student-athletes that we’ll protect our pocketbooks. So yes, we should make some changes there.”

In April, the NCAA’s Board of Governors announced it “supported rule changes to allow student-athletes to receive compensation for third-party endorsements both related to and separate from athletics” and also was in favor of “compensation for other student-athlete opportunities, such as social media, businesses they have started and personal appearances.”

Those athletes would not be allowed to use school or conference logos or trademarks in any advertisement. But it would be a step in the right direction for unpaid college athletes who help generate billions of dollars for schools and broadcasters, namely in college football and basketball. 

Granted, many people believe the athletes should be paid as school employees, given the massive amount of time and commitment being a college athlete requires. Many high-profile coaches make millions of dollars, while the players make nothing. Additionally, for potential professional prospects, any injury suffered at the college level could ultimately damage their long-term earning potential. 

Such ideas aren’t without complications. Would all athletes be paid equally, or would there be discrepancies between the different sports, or even between different players on the same team? Would all schools be required to pay their players the same amount? 

Those against paying college athletes have long argued that a free education via a scholarship is a sizeable payment in and of itself. Such an education doesn’t pay for food, or bills, or help support family members in need. 

One thing is for certain—it’s not an issue that is going away anytime soon.

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