UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen’s recent comments on the rigors student athletes face are 100 percent right, but also myopic.

By Andrew J. Pridgen

College football is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year entertainment juggernaut. It is a sport that’s profitable for the many involved: The schools, their conferences, the outfitters (uniform, shoes, helmets), the coaches, the assistants, the assistants to the assistants, the media and the very pundits who put bread on their table from smiting players dare speak out also get a big cut of the action from these young adult indentured servants.

Who doesn’t get anything? The actual purveyors of the product.

College football players, who by now you know are predominantly black, from predominantly poor corners of the country, who will find—to a person—that less than two percent will move on to make football a career choice, even temporarily, will suffer the same injuries, elbow, shoulder, sternum, knees, toes and fingers, all the dislocations, separations, tears and unnatural folds you can conjure, in exchange for a few pairs of extra socks to send back home to their boys and maybe a visit from an escort service if they choose the right kind of chicken-fried Christian zealot-heretic coach.

They know going in, from signing day to the last time through that tunnel, that it’s all bullshit, that they’re being used. That it all goes away.

They’re not athletes as much as they are bloody, sinewy jersey fillers, flavors of the day. College football fans, maybe more than any other across big-time sport, care not what’s inside the jersey as long as what it represents, represents success—because it’s a panacea for them.

Whatever memory of a time that was supposed to be the best in the fans’ lives, whatever student loans they still owe, whatever illusive bubble/incubator of learning that perpetuates through our collective narrative backed by a shield, a mascot and a pair of clashing colors, college football still serves as the most recognizable a symbol for it. It is a barbaric game that exploits the working poor families and minorities for the viewing pleasure of rich people—and ultimately leaves those who participate discarded and with brain damage.

Rosen, who is going into his third campaign as play caller for UCLA, recently sat down with Bleacher Report and not-so-subtly hinted at the above. The cagey economics major was forthcoming about his inability to mix a full course load and football. He was self-effacing about the struggle to balance school work with the full-time job of being a professional football player—at age 19 when one’s brain and body haven’t fully formed.

He spoke about the type of degree (economics/UCLA) he’s going after and compared it to a lesser degree from a lesser more football-centric university which is also where the reporting at Bleacher Report fails.

Here’s the exchange:

B/R: How is it, then, that some guys graduate in three years? Deshaun Watson graduated in three years from Clemson. So did his roommate, Artavis Scott.

Rosen: I’m not knocking what those guys accomplished. They should be applauded for that. But certain schools are easier than others.

B/R: It can’t be that simple.

Rosen: If I wanted to graduate in three years, I’d just get a sociology degree. I want to get my MBA. I want to create my own business. When I’m finished with football, I want a seamless transition to life and work and what I’ve dreamed about doing all my life. I want to own the world. Every young person should be able to have that dream and the ability to access it. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

…On face value what Rosen said is pretty benign stuff. But just beneath that, there’s a show of the kind of entitlement Rosen enjoys that Deshaun Watson (QB, Texans) and Artavis Scott (receiver, Chargers) do not. Entitlement combined with the interviewers’ naïveté/creation of a false equivalency between the backgrounds and educational opportunities of Watson and Scott vs. Rosen. The prior two had a single path to success out of Clemson and that was through football.

Rosen was born in Manhattan Beach to Liz Lippincott, a former journalist and Charles Rosen, a spine surgeon. He grew up playing tennis and became a top-10 player in junior rankings then switched to football right before high school. He went to a top private prep academy, St. John Bosco High School, in tony Bellflower, California, and honed his skills there with coaches, teachers and personal trainers and mentors.

That’s not to say Rosen doesn’t have the talent or the drive, he does. He also certainly has the pedigree. He is a country club quarterback in every sense of the word. If football ended tomorrow for Rosen, he could just as easily choose between med school or Goldman Sachs.

Deshaun Watson grew up in Gainesville, Georgia on the state’s northern edge, sixty miles northeast of Atlanta. The town is known for its massive amount of poultry processing, occasional gang crime and a median household income of $38,119. Artavis Scott grew up in Tarpon Springs, Fla which is a series of marshes and bayous that lead to the Gulf of Mexico. The main industries there are sponge-diving, tourism and trying to get out of Tarpon Springs.

…Five years ago, former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon filed on behalf of the NCAA’s Division I football and men’s basketball players, a challenge to the organization’s use of the images of its former student athletes for commercial purposes.

The suit argued that upon graduation, a former student athlete should become entitled to financial compensation for the NCAA’s commercial uses of his or her image. The NCAA maintains that paying its athletes would be a violation of its concept of amateurism in sports. At stake are “billions of dollars in television revenues and licensing fees” the suit alleges. The case made it to the Supreme Court which granted Certiorari (cert) on October 3, 2016. The court then declined to hear the case even though there was a so-called “split” in the circuit courts. (Note: The SC did not give a reason for denying O’Bannon v. NCAA but usually only escalates cases with Constitutional or life/death implications.)

So O’Bannon’s effort to get money put in a trust for NCAA players who give their all and get so little in return remains mired and in the meantime, UCLA inked a 15-year, $280 million deal with Under Armour in the spring of 2016. Rosen went to Instagram to troll the school: “We’re still amateurs though … Gotta love non-profits #NCAA”.

Rosen is right and right to speak out. The system is unfair. But he’ll never have to face the full brunt of the system failing him because he was born white and privileged and with a wide support net. Other current NCAA football players won’t be nearly as lucky once they are forgotten.

Andrew J. Pridgen helps run sister site Goner Party and is the author of the novella “Burgundy Upholstery Sky”. His first full-length novel will be released in November.

 

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