Clarett Gets Off the Plantation

Author Eduardo Galeano writes that we live in an ‘Upside Down World’, a place where self described ‘War Time President’ George W. Bush is nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize; a place where Janet Jackson’s missing bra leads the news over missing weapons of mass destruction; a place where the pear-shaped Dr. Phil can make millions on diet advice. We are gorged on lies until repetition proves truth. Up is officially down. Black is White.

The world of sports is no exception. We are told that the name ‘Redskin’ is in fact a ‘tribute’ to Native Americans. We are told that publicly funded stadiums benefit all even if ‘all’ cannot afford tickets.

But the Pope of the Upside Down Sports World has to be the NCAA. Say what you will about Danny Snyder and George Steinbrenner: at least they wear greed like a pink carnation in their lapels. But the NCAA plantation masters of unpaid athletes will slam down their mint juleps and indignantly challenge you to a duel if you infer that they are anything but pure. That’s why the recent court decision to allow Ohio St. running back Maurice Clarett and others to bypass college and apply for the NFL draft is the sports equivalent of Fort Sumter, an opening shot at the NCAA’s sweatshop of indentured servitude. “I was pleased with the judge’s ruling,” Clarett said. “It gives a lot of kids an opportunity to choose a different path. It wasn’t me so much trying to take down the NFL, just having another option.”

But Clarett and company shouldn’t have to seek other options to be compensated for their cash-money sweat. The NCAA should pay them. For athletes who choose not to go to school, the NFL should fund a minor league. But why do that when for a fraction of the cost you can hire spokespeople, lawyers and other professional dissemblers to tie up the courts for the foreseeable eternity. Why fund ‘The Topeka Tortugas’ when you can hire NCAA ‘spokeswoman’ Scarlet O’Hara AKA Kay Hawes to say things like, an education perspective, we are disappointed with the decision…it clearly opens the door to more football student-athletes leaving college early and without degrees.”

Frankly, Kay, your student-athletes don’t give a damn. Yes, many college football players work hard in the classroom and on the field. But the majority attends classes as often as George W. Bush attended drill duty for the National Guard. According to NCAA figures, LSU graduates only 40 percent of its football players and Oklahoma is down at a shameful 33 percent. In fact, if teams were required to graduate 50% of their players to get in a bowl game, 26 of this year’s 28 bowls would have been canceled. This should shock no one.

If you were generating millions in profits for a school, while observing that your coach (say Miami’s Larry Coker) was driving a Cadillac Escalade, and you are practicing year round for hours a day, that 8:00 a.m. class on Comparative Economics looks less appealing than John Ashcroft night at the Apollo Theatre.

If you are a ‘Student Athlete’ at LSU, one of the poorest state schools in the country, and coach Nick Saban re-signs for almost three mill a year while your dorm room has asbestos oozing out of the walls and no hot water, a shot at the pros before you tear your knee in eight places doesn’t look half bad. Spencer Haywood, whose lawsuit paved the way for underclassmen to play, said, “I’d love somebody to explain to me how we can send an 18-year-old to war, but we can’t to the NFL.” Good question, Spencer. Just don’t look to the NFL or NCAA for honest answers. They will just roll their eyes and say, “Fiddle-dee-dee!”

DAVE ZIRIN is the News Editor of the Prince George’s Post, Prince George’s County’s only black-owned paper. He can be reached at

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DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at