Indentured: The Inside Story Of The Rebellion Against The NCAA, by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss
This book is written with an obvious intent to shock the reader into a horror at the exploitation of college athletes, mostly from minority and unprivileged backgrounds, by the NCAA. In my personal case, the big money as well as the exploitation is something I am familiar with , and so the shock value was not really a factor in my reading of this particular book. This book boils down to simple justice–is the NCAA doing justice by having schools and coaches take the spoils for the efforts of young men (and to a lesser extent women) while the athletes are not compensated for it? The short answer is no, and this book demonstrates through vivid prose and some excellent reportage that the main reasons this has gone on as long as it has is because of the immense power disparity between the two powers and the fact that those who have the government authority to do anything about it have reacted in fear of upsetting the apple cart and entering into the unknown. The enemy of justice is often not injustice, but rather cowardice and fear, and this book demonstrates those qualities in a frustratingly large degree among those who govern the world of collegiate sports.
In terms of its contents, this book (which is about 350 pages including its two appendices with excellent papers referred to in the main text that show how the NCAA’s systems have more than a little whiff of the plantation) covers a generally chronological look at the problems of the NCAA. The origins and growth of the NCAA are examined, as are the continual existence of critics and lawsuits, and the immense power for evil of the NCAA is also examined. Certain leaders in college sports are given immense criticism and the authors show themselves with a consistently and resolutely populist stance in favor of the heavily exploited athletes of revenue sports (namely football and men’s basketball) and the existence of the NCAA as a cartel that keeps them down and exploits them for profit while arguing that there is something grand in amateurism that is worth preserving for the sake and benefit of the athletes themselves, arguments that could almost have been written in the period before the Civil War by slavery apologists. The authors get a lot of good mileage about labor agitators and lawyers seeking to bring the NCAA to justice in the court system, a process that has unfortunately been very uneven to date.
What is it that someone gets out of this book? Much depends on whether you are susceptible to the authors’ arguments about justice and fair play, and whether you share their irritation with the frequent desire of judges and other authorities, like the NLRB, in trying to acknowledge what will be just while still trying to find a compromise that would avoid creating too much change in the world of college sports. The advantage of being an unjust authority in such a circumstance is that any compromise endangers the view that authorities can be just in the face of massive inequalities in power, and makes it far easier for those who are upset with the status quo to demand even more deep changes in order to achieve a greater sense of equity. This is a book that makes shoe marketers to inner city athletes and labor agitators among the community of collegiate athletes and muckrucking lawyers out to be heroes. When such people can plausibly be viewed as heroes, the people they are opposed to must be doing something deeply wrong.
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