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The Shabazz Napier rabbit hole

9 April 2014 By Justin Thau, Columnist No Comments
UConn star draws criticism for comments about hunger, NCAA ban
Courtesy of Matthew D. Britt

Courtesy of Matthew D. Britt

I was going to write a third and final volume to my 2014 March Madness Diary detailing the seemingly unlikely rise of the University of Connecticut to the top of the college basketball world.

However, what struck me most about the Men’s National Championship wasn’t the game itself. Rather, it was UConn senior point guard Shabazz Napier’s post-game comments.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you’re lookin’ at the Hungry Huskies. This is what happens when you ban us last year, two years – we worked so hard for it – two years and hungry. Hungry Huskies!”

Being an advocate for the recent Northwestern football team’s unionization and further changes to the NCAA’s grossly exploitative system for “compensating” athletes, I immediately empathized with Napier
and thought to myself: There’s a column just waiting to happen here.

Unfortunately for me (but most likely fortunately for you), the column has already been written by Ian Crouch of The New Yorker. The article’s entitled “Shabazz Napier’s One Shining Moment of Truth” and I
encourage you to go check it out. I did – and not only is it a fine piece with which I agree, but it also has a whole spectrum of comments that are begging to get overanalyzed!

So, without further ado, allow me to delve into the sometimes good, mostly bad, and overwhelmingly ugly that is the comments section of this article.

Note to self: Reading the comments always turns out to be a strange, depressing timesuck. Enjoy! These are actual comments from actual accounts on The New Yorker’s website.

From Landry1: “As a Uconn alumnus it is painful to read about Napier’s struggles while a student athlete there. He presents a powerful argument for reform that can no longer be ignored.”

Hey – this isn’t so bad! A former student that wants things to change for the better! To clarify, Landry1 is referring to a comment Napier recently made about how he has had to go hungry from time to time
even though he has a full-ride scholarship.

He speaks to an overarching problem throughout college athletics in which scholarships don’t necessarily cover the day-to-day expenses of players, which can be a serious issue given that athletes rarely have
time to work since they’re working for the school 45 hours a week.

But I digress.

From DSteven: “…why is it ok for baseball, hockey, soccer and tennis players to skip college, but a scandal when basketball players want to do the same?”

Money!!!! Money!!!! $$$$!!!! The NCAA reaps in the dough from both college football (notice the omission) and college basketball. This was probably a rhetorical question, but that’s OK – I still have hope for
this comments section!

From chris40: “Shabazz can’t afford to eat?  Doesn’t his scholarship come with room and board? Or he could join the 50,000,000 other Americans and collect food stamps.”

Hm. I’m not even sure what chris40 is trying to say here – if he had left it after “room and board,” this is conceivably a legitimate question (its answer is yes, but room and board doesn’t give you money to live
outside of the campus and dining halls).

Then he throws the food stamp zinger and now I’m all confused. Without assuming anything on chris40’s behalf, I’ll say this: He’s close on the food stamp statistic. The actual number as of 2013 is just under
48 million Americans.

What does this have to do with Shabazz Napier? I’m not sure – but if Napier has a full scholarship to go to college, he probably shouldn’t need a food stamp too.

From WolfLord69: “How much did all those tats cost I wonder! If he outspent his scholarships…that is on him.”

Ruh-roh, we may have hit a turning point. Look, WolfLord69: I get it. Sixty-nine is a popular number. Wolves are pretty cool. Being the lord of them must also be pretty cool – but all three together sounds like
a bizarre porno that’s most likely illegal.

Anyway, Shabazz could totally have a friend who happens to be a tattoo artist, too. And I’d like to see you live on scholarships alone without having time to maintain another source of income and still have a
standard of living that seems acceptable for a college-going young adult.

Try it out sometime.

From madisonmoments: “This is mission creep at its worst.  The core mission of universities is education, not entertainment. Athletics were instituted as an extra-curricular activity designed to enhance the
student experience.”

Then sports media saw the massive financial benefits of showing skilled athletes on unlimited TV presentations, all fueled by an endless series of insurance commercials mainly geared to young men.

If entertainment is the way to go then those universities with top-notch drama and film programs [e.g. Yale and USC] should be providing scholarships to the Jennifer Lawrences and Alexander Paynes of the
world, who would then soon ask to be paid, or at least be provided with better food services.”

Well, Jennifer Lawrence didn’t go to college, so that idea’s dead.

Alexander Payne didn’t go to undergraduate film school, but even if he had he probably wouldn’t have had to work 45 hours a week and bring in millions of dollars for the NCAA for no extra-scholarship

As a film student, I certainly don’t intend on making any money for Towson or the NCAA through my classroom shorts.

If anything, I’m going to spend a good deal of my own money on them instead.

Still, the biggest misconception from madisonmoments is that the “core mission of universities is education, not entertainment.” Yeah, and the core mission of slaughterhouses is to provide food for the cows,
not exploit their bodies.

C’mon, people – universities are here to make money. They’re businesses that incidentally educate some people.

Have you seen your tuition recently? Have you had to pay money to read books for class recently?

How’s that professor that is generally unhelpful because he or she is retiring soon? I am grateful for the many experiences, lessons, and friends I’ve gained at this University – but I’ll be the first to admit that
college is first and foremost a business, too.

From farmboy51: “Hungry nights? . . . My [backside]. Every major NCAA athletic program provides meals as part of scholarships. It’s called the training table. Watching jerseys ‘getting selled’ — from a college
senior? This is a guy who shouldn’t have been admitted to college and certainly didn’t learn much while there. But he got a free ride – with meals – worth at least $100,000. Why should “student”-athletes get
paid on top of that? How do non-athletes pay their expenses? They are the ones who should receive a stipend. College sports are already too “professional,” paying athletes is a horrible idea.

Oh dear. We’ve reached the bottom of the rabbit hole. Two quick but important points before my editors spout steam from their ears:

Firstly, saying Napier is “a guy who shouldn’t have been admitted to college and certainly didn’t learn much while there” is laughably erroneous for obvious reasons.

Secondly, we need to stop pretending that these full scholarships student-athletes receive are actually worth their assigned dollar values.

I honestly don’t care how much Napier’s scholarship is “worth” on paper – how much of that money does he actually see?

How much of that money does a one-and-done college basketball player actually get to have in his pocket?

The correct answer: not very much at all.

Such is a primary impetus for paying college athletes that help bring in the big bucks for the NCAA: These kids are devoting both school time and possible other employment time – full work weeks – to their
sports for money that they rarely even get to touch.

A male college basketball player with NBA talent, for example, is mandated to stay in college at least one year.

He will not see most of his scholarship money, yet he will devote hours on hours to his program, all the while risking his potential professional playing career for the profits of the NCAA.

Sounds like a woefully neglected employee, doesn’t he? At least he could always make a quick buck or two off of signing his autograph for fans…oh wait, he can’t do that either.

What about a commercial?


The NCAA bans that too? Man, this really is a bummer. Let’s try to end on a little bit lighter of a note:

From farmboy51: “…anyone who can use simple grammar after four years in college should not have been admitted to college and their degree is merely a gift.”



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