“Consider a full-time unpaid internship that requires 1-4 years of participation, with a minimum 40-hour work week. This internship generates millions of dollars for your company, and billions of dollars for the broadcasting companies that cover your industry. Within this internship, you risk your short-term and long-term health on a daily basis. You endure this internship with less than a 2% chance to advance in your industry and obtain a full-time paid job. Would you accept this position?” The University of Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger took to Twitter last week to express his feelings regarding North Carolina representative Mark Walker’s bill that requires the NCAA to compensate athletes to profit from their name and image. Above are Ehlinger’s compiled thoughts on the bill, as seen on his Twitter. As you can imagine, these tweets in support of the bill evoked a slew of responses from all parts of the spectrum, from praising Ehlinger to supporting himself and other student athletes, to absolutely ripping apart Ehlinger for publicly supporting the bill.
As a former student athlete and current college student, there are some comments I have regarding some of the statements and arguments Ehlinger makes. He, and the bill he is supporting, makes a reasonable overall argument. Look at Olympians, for example. They do not get paid to play their sport; rather, they make income through sponsorships and brand deals. College players do not get paid (directly) for playing their sport, but unlike Olympians, they are not permitted to accept brand deals or any sort of monetary payment that is made in their name (like autographs, pictures, etc.). Ehlinger also points out that since the chance of making the sport into a professional career is less than two percent, they should be allowed to make money now, since making money after college isn’t a guarantee. Additionally, he points out that they are constantly risking their health, which could put them out of the running of going pro. These are reasonable arguments to make, however, they are overshadowed by a few things that have been overlooked in his argument. First, student athletes, specifically ones on scholarship like Sam Ehlinger, do not have to pay for their higher education, which is worth over $100,000. They will never have to worry about the crippling student debt that most students graduate with, and even if these athletes do not make it to the pros, they will be graduating debt free whatsoever, giving them a leg up on those who do. Within that scholarship, not only are classes covered, but room and board, meals (on and off the road), transportation (on and off the road), textbooks, and tutors (that also travel with them) are covered. The dorms that the athletes stay in are specifically for the team and are among the nicest on campus. These athletes get to travel across the nation playing the game they love for free. In addition to all of that, they also have a million dollar locker room, and have an entire wardrobe given to them: socks, shoes, underwear, short sleeve shirts, long sleeve shirts, hoodies, jackets, half zips, pants, shorts, warm ups, headbands, beanies, gloves, shoes, you name it. But they don’t just get one pair of everything, either. They get multiple pairs, in multiple colors, and if anything happens to any piece of apparel, it can immediately be replaced at the snap of a finger. On top of that, they have their own training staff that is on call 24/7, so you don’t have to go to the student clinic like all of the other students. To be completely honest, I have no idea what the dollar amount of all of this is, but I would estimate it to be pretty high. And that is only for one player, so multiply that by the 60-70 athletes that make up the team, and you’re really starting to rack up quite the bill. Here’s the other option: you can not get all of that for free and instead make money off of sponsorships or brand deals. You can pay for all of your classes, meals, transportation, travel, apparel, room and board, tutors, medical staff, etc.
The one exception I find reasonable for this argument are walk-ons. These players get nothing in return for all of their hard work, and their chances of making it to the professionals are nearly zero. But they still play, and you know why? Because they love the game. The love the game so much, with every particle of their being, that they are willing to give up that 40 plus hours a week for one to fours years for absolutely nothing in return. It saddens me that someone like Sam Ehlinger, who is on a full ride scholarship, is pushing for more money, fully knowing that only the athletes who are well known will profit from it. The walk ons won’t get anything out of this deal, because let’s be honest, no one is going to know who a walk on is: they are a walk on for a reason. In my opinion, this is entitlement at its highest form. And if you aren’t happy with what you already have, then quit. No one is forcing you to play. And to be completely honest, you would be giving the opportunity you had to someone who would have played this game for nothing in return because that’s how much they cherish the game.
I personally don’t think this bill is going anywhere anytime soon, but I do commend Ehlinger for speaking his mind, knowing it is not a very popular stance on this topic. However, it does hurt my heart a little knowing someone from my dream school, that I was not accepted to, who made it to college sports and got a full ride scholarship, something I did not make it to due to injury, is asking for more than they already have. It is greedy and entitled, and I think that the University of Texas really needs to illustrate to their students athletes how fortunate they are for the opportunities they have been given, because not everyone gets the luxury of playing the game they love in return for a higher education.
Claire Coburn is an Intern Writer for Pub Sports Radio