I Guess That These Gladiators Are Not So Eager to Die

Derek Jeter founded The Players Tribune in 2014 to give athletes a forum to write about issues important to them. It’s where basketball player Elena Delle Donne disclosed her struggle with Lyme disease; where volleyballer Merete Lutz discussed what it was like to be in South Korea during the pandemic; and where numerous Black athletes have published their reflections on #BlackLivesMatter.

On Sunday, it served as the sports equivalent of Martin Luther’s church door. A group of college football players from the Pac-12 Conference, which includes schools such as Stanford, Washington and Oregon, posted a series of extraordinary demands that they said would have to be met or they would boycott the coming season.

The proximate cause for this potential work stoppage — and yes, that’s what it would be, a work stoppage — is the pandemic. Even though the virus continues to surge in much of the country — and many universities have become fearful about opening their campuses to students in the fall — the power conferences still seem intent on having a football season. There is simply too much money at stake to pull the plug. At all the top football schools, players have been on campus for weeks now, participating in “voluntary” workouts.


And the Pac-12 players, empowered by #BlackLivesMatter and handed tremendous leverage thanks to Covid-19, concluded that they would never have a better opportunity to force the system to change.

After a preamble that lays out all the ways they are exploited (“Because immoral rules would punish us for receiving basic necessities and compensation …”), they list a series of ambitious demands, only a few of which have to do with Covid-19 prevention measures. They call for coaches and administrators in the Pac-12 to reduce their “excessive pay” and for schools to restore the nonrevenue sports that have been cut because of the pandemic. They want the conference to set aside 2% of its revenue, which “would be directed by players to support financial aid for low-income Black students, community initiatives, and development programs for college athletes on each campus.”

There have been hundreds of players who have come down with Coronavirus, and the college’s response is to force them to sign liability waivers.

If there is a more corrupt organization in the United States than the NCAA, I haven’t seen it yet.

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