Time for college athletes to lead mass protests against NCAA


Somewhere in America, author and historian Taylor Branch is sitting back with a huge grin on his face, telling anyone who passes by, “I told ya so.”

Two years after he published his amazing and provocative e-book, “The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA,” the group that governs amateur college athletics is imploding before our very eyes.

The NCAA is facing a major lawsuit from former hoops star Ed O’Bannon over the using of the likenesses of players in video games. On Thursday, EA Sports, settled with the players for $40 million, but foolishly, the NCAA will continue to fight the lawsuit.

University of Miami fans, administration and alumni despise Mark Emmert and his troops for letting the school go three years with an investigation hovering over their heads and no end in sight.

Many are perplexed that Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel was accused of signing autographs for pay, but all the NCAA was did was suspend him for the first half of the game against Rice University.

And last week, numerous college football players wrote “APU” on their uniforms, which stand for All Players United, an effort pushed by the National Collegiate Players Association, an advocacy group of current and former players.

The NCPA is pushing for a variety of solutions, including improving health conditions for former and current players, as well as provide additional financial resources to players.

The NCAA is making millions and millions of dollars off of the backs of student-athletes, and adhering to an outdated model that providing money to them is wrong.

Emmert, the former university president who is paid nearly $1.7 million, has made it clear the NCAA doesn’t profit off of the likenesses of star players, instead, emphasizing the team concept.

ESPN’s Jay Bilas did a public service by embarrassing Emmert when he went to the NCAA’s website, entered the name of star players and their jerseys popped up for sale. Stunned and shocked, the NCAA quickly took down the site, admitting the error.

But the damage was done, and the credibility of Emmert and the NCAA is eroding by the day.

The NCAA used to bank on public opinion buying into the idea of student-athletes getting a “free” education. But today, with coaches making upwards of $5 million annually, schools raking millions via TV contracts, and merchandising sales exploding, it is becoming increasingly clear that the NCAA are nothing more than modern-day pimps and the players are their prostitutes, doing all of the work and getting little in return.

In October 2011, I interviewed Branch on my TV One Cable Network Sunday morning show, “Washington Watch,” and he said when the athletes begin to rebel, the NCAA would be in trouble.

“The players are beginning to realize that this system is amateur only for them. That is not in law; it’s basically a ‘Wizard of Oz’ system fleecing them,” Branch said. “And so there are lawsuits and all kinds of other things that are going to tear the NCAA apart sooner or later.

“I argue that it should — it should have a gentle fall and — and try to regulate itself, ‘cause if it tries to hang on to all this money, it’s just going to go up in flames.”

But Emmert is stubborn to acknowledge the need to alter the NCAA, instead thinking he can make the moral argument that what he and others are profiting off of is righteous.

When Dez Bryant was at Oklahoma State, he went to dinner with Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders. He lied to the NCAA about the dinner and was suspended 10 games during his senior year. Terrelle Pryor didn’t play his final season at Ohio State because he was suspended for selling his jersey. Incredulously, NFL Commissioner extended the NCAA’s suspension of Pryor to his NFL career.

Yet when Cam Newton led Auburn to the national championship in 2011, Branch says he was adorned with the logo of Under Armour, the athletic company that licensed products for Auburn.

How many?

“Fifteen at every game,” Branch said. “Four on his helmet, one on each wristband, one on each shoe, I think one on the headband under his helmet and several others. I can’t remember them all, but they were all specified by the NCAA office that says they have to be exactly a certain size and everything else. So, they regulate the commercial side of the sports and promote it right down to the tiniest detail, while forbidding the athletes from selling their jersey.”

One man who knew full well how the NCAA operated was Walter Byers, the group’s executive director from 1951 to 1988. In his book, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Exploiting the Student-Athlete,” he made clear what the NCAA really is.

“Today the NCAA Presidents Commission is preoccupied with tightening a few loose bolts in a worn machine, firmly committed to the neo-plantation belief that the enormous proceeds from college games belong to the overseers (administrators) and supervisors (coaches),” he said. “The plantation workers performing in the arena may only receive those benefits authorized by the overseers.”

Yes, the man who helped create this monster describes exactly what it is.

In fact, many would be stunned that the term “student-athlete” wasn’t created as a term of endearment, but as Branch wrote, was created by an NCAA lawyer to defend them against a lawsuit.

It’s time that every college football player engages in civil disobedience to protest the NCAA. Wear “APU” on your clothes; stand at midfield and chant, “All Players United!”; during the national title game, sit down in the middle of field and delay the game in a show of protest; and encourage your basketball players to do the same.

There is nothing more powerful than seeing athletes, not lawyers or journalists, standing up and singing that familiar civil rights anthem, “I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on freedom!”

Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and the author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as originally reported by Roland S. Martin.”